Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Much Great Work?

A few days ago I received the box from Amazon bearing my copy of Michael Bungay Stanier’s latest book, Do More Great Work, and I have thrown myself into reading and working through the exercises vehemently. Over the years Michael’s work has consistently prodded me out some of my ruts and confronted me with important questions about working more creatively and courageously. If you want a quick taste of his ideas, then watch this short animated video called The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun. Through interviews, case studies and other research Michael has been developing material around the theme of “great work,” which he distinguishes logically enough for "good work" and "bad work." Great work is deeply connected to our sense of purpose and gives our lives an intrinsic sense of meaning. The basic premise of Do More Great Work is that most of us invest most of our lives doing things other than great work. The distinction is important and it does provide an interesting criterion for measuring one’s individual contributions.

The text of the book is organized around 15 areas of inquiry, labeled “Maps.” After an introductory overview, Map 1 begins, simply enough, with an inventory of the work you are currently doing. Since the start of the year I have found myself in a season of exploring my personal approaches toward delivering measureable results through my various work processes. It has been interesting to observe my own work habits, routines and rhythms. My assumption has been that my big idealistic vision of the “great work” that I feel is my deep calling and purpose in life is too often deferred by the necessary business of doing good but lesser work. To my surprise, the map that I drew of my current work distribution did not show a picture of my great work being sabotaged by worthwhile but less important “good work.” The uncomfortable reality revealed in this snap shot of my daily work life is that I have spent more time during my work days than I have recognized doing “bad work.”

The ugly truth that this exercise revealed is that I have some really stupid habits. Apparently, I am addicted to checking my e-mail inboxes and some other trivial data points of my online existence, not just once in a while but constantly, over and over again. Last week I heard Seth Godin say in an interview that he doesn’t watch television and that he just couldn’t afford to be on Twitter. While I am not ready to jettison social media yet on a wholesale basis, I understand why he said this. My OCD fixation with some of these things has become ridiculous. What’s worse, I have been using these behaviors to distract and deflect myself from working on stuff that matters—my self-defined “great work” of touching audiences with great music and advocating for that process with my teaching and writing.

Earlier today I came across the following quote in a blog post from Clint Watson about visual artists and marketing their art: "Does it take you away from creating in your studio? The most important thing you can be doing is creating your artwork. So even if an idea is "good,” you might want to skip it for better uses of your time."     During my current semester-long sabbatical I have had an unusual level of freedom in creating my own schedule and work routines, as I do not have the usual volume of fixed appointments for lectures, lessons and meetings. And, to be honest, I have always been pretty good at creating own structures and adhering to them. I suspect that some of the time I have spent connecting with others online is a mild compensation for the lower level of social interaction I am experience during this time of not going to my campus office each morning. Still, it is surprising how easy it is to get detoured from one’s central purpose.

So, here’s to my best effort to keep my eye on the prize this week. I will let you know how things continue to work out over time.

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1 comment:

boxofcrayons said...


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