The most important work task
Imagine you’re relaxing in an easy chair, with a blanket over your legs and a notebook in your hand. In the notebook you write the title “What is my most important work task?” Then you pick up your cup of tea, take a sip, and look out through the window.
What thoughts might arise? Take a minute and write down your answer before you continue reading this.
Finished? I understand the temptation to cheat a little. Maybe things are kind of hectic right now. But this text will likely be more useful to you if you answer the question.
One time when I was going through a really intensive period, I promised some friends in the USA that I would come and visit them at the same time. After much hesitation, I decided to go anyway. I was given an extra key so I could spontaneously do whatever I felt like doing. Go jogging on the beach. Sit in a café. Think.
When I got back, it was as though my brain had gone from being a cluttered desk to a desk with a pen holder, a few pieces of paper with actual relevance, and everything else sorted into binders behind me. I felt that I was in control of the situation. In addition, I had had time to reflect deeply over the meaning of everything I did in connection with work. Doing work tasks because I am stressed and because my to-do list says I should is different from doing things because I know they are important for the people involved. This in turn gave rise to new ideas and another perspective on what I should prioritise.
Why did I hesitate to go? What do we risk facing when we stop and reflect? Ourselves. Maybe we feel like a phony – if people only knew that I haven’t got the faintest idea about how I’m going to … Maybe we feel cowardly – why do I always avoid …Perhaps we feel inadequate – if only I could be a little more…
It’s safe keeping busy with the operational tasks and postponing the strategic work. We feel efficient and knowledgeable when doing operative work because we know what needs to be done and how we’re going to do it. Our results are visible to others, and we receive praise for our productivity. Working with strategy is much more difficult. It’s long-term work, and it’s all about working in a way that is well thought through and consistent and about sticking to your plans. Moreover, we may fear that the valuable time we spend on something so good for the business may just go unnoticed.
Still, reflection is something that most of us long for. We get a warm, fuzzy feeling when we imagine ourselves sitting in an easy chair, just reflecting. Maybe we berate ourselves for not doing it more often, because we know all too well how necessary it is for making wise decisions. That’s when the feeling ‟I’m just a phony” can arise. We assume that everyone else is making carefully prepared decisions. But maybe at this very moment your own boss is thinking, ‟What if people knew how much is improvised in the moment.” Maybe the entire management team feels that way.
I’m convinced that everyone has the power to do what they truly want to. But to do this, we have to meet ourselves. That’s when feelings bubble up to the surface, and that can be unpleasant. But it can also be a relief. When we turn our gaze inward, we do not see ourselves as phonies. It doesn’t matter how phony we feel with others. We know what we stand for deep inside, what we fear, and how we can get past our fears. When we know where we want to go, we can slowly but surely build ourselves a road to take us in that direction. This roadwork yields results – a stable foundation which will take us exactly where we want to go. Situation under control. A feeling of purpose in what we do.
Did you write down your most important work task when you started reading this text? Did you lean back in the chair, and give it some consideration? Did you imagine yourself in an easy chair drinking tea, with nothing to do in the moment except think about what your most important work task actually is? What did you come up with? Taste the words “most important work task”. Not something you do to be extra kind to yourself. It’s about something that’s absolutely necessary, that would make a real different in what you want to achieve.
Maybe you came to the same conclusion that I did: ‟My absolutely most important work task is reflection.”
What are the thoughts that you don’t allow yourself to think when it comes to the business?
If you imagine yourself as being big and powerful, what thoughts would you then think when it comes to the business?
Here are eight simple steps for how you can go from “would like” to action:
1. Book an hour in your calendar for reflection. It’s smart to book it as soon as possible – then there is no risk of something more important coming along that clashes with your reflection time.
2. Decide where you want to be. Where are you most creative? Do you want to take a walk, sit at your favourite café, or is it enough to close the door to your office and put up a “Please do not disturb” sign? Unfortunately, the slightest distraction, such as someone dropping by just to say “hi”, can disrupt your thought process.
3. Make sure you are not disturbed by phone calls or emails during the hour you have booked. You can, for example, turn off the sound and vibration signal on your mobile phone, and turn off the sound on your computer. It may be difficult, but not everything that has to be done is comfortable. Try to let go of any worry about someone trying to reach you in case of an emergency. If you like, you can let important people know in advance about your hour of isolation.
4. Decide that this is going to happen. See it as an important meeting with yourself. Don’t be tempted to negotiate your reflection time away in favour of some other meeting. Remember – you’re not just indulging yourself here. This is something that will really make a difference for your business. Think about what you could accomplish if you just took this hour to reflect.
5. Reflect at the appointed time, for one uninterrupted hour. Resist impulses to immediately start working on everything you come up with. Otherwise there’s a risk that you choose to spend the entire hour on operational tasks instead of reflection.
There are two ways you can choose to approach your impulses.
(a) You can make an objective observation, “Here comes an impulse to start working on this,” but allow it to pass. You don’t have to do everything immediately. If it’s important, get back to it later.
(b) You can write down the impulse, so that you feel secure that you won’t forget to take care of it when your reflection time is over.
6. End your reflection hour by booking a new time for reflection.
7. When the reflection hour is over, you can start going through all the ideas that popped up, all the things that you came up with that you should do, etc. Then consider what should or shouldn’t be done? Who should do it? What are the next action steps (e.g. call Y and ask if…., google Z and find….), and when?
8. Have your next reflection hour at the appointed time. Because you wrote down your thoughts and next steps and started working on what needs to be done, there is less risk that you will use this new reflection hour to take care of the operational tasks you decided upon during your previous reflection hour. Instead, it will be an hour devoted to thoughtful reflection where the outcome is new ideas.