How to Tame Busy Work and Make Room for Great Work

Last Updated Mar 16, 2010 2:51 PM EDT

You're young, ambitious and fresh on the office scene. Every morning you wake up determined to do great work, but you've noticed something. Despite your desire to produce work that makes your boss and co-workers stand up and take notice, you often end up frittering away your day doing useful but routine tasks. This deluge of busy work is sweeping away the time and energy you need to do truly great things, so how can you tame it?

Michael Bungay Stanier author of the new book Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork and Start the Work that Matters has authored a guest post for the American Express Open Forum blog that tackles the problem of out of control busy work with three easy to implement solutions:

  • Pick a great work project. If you're like most of us, most of what you do is good work. Great work, if you have any, tends to be squeezed into the edges. You could begin a brand new great work project ... but an easier way to do more great work is to review your current good work obligations, and pick one to "amp up" to great work. What's a project that's rolling along -- and what would be different if you turned it into great work? What extra time and focus would you give it? Who else would you get involved? What would you say "yes" to? And what would you say "no" to?
  • Embrace adequate. Excellence is highly overrated--at least, the belief that everything needs to be excellent. The truth is this: it's impossible to deliver everything at such a high standard, and nor should you want to. Absolutely deliver excellence for great work for the work that matters, but review your good work and set "adequate" as your standard for performance. This is a tough idea to embrace, particularly if you're smart, keen and ambitious.... every time you deliver good work an iota over adequate, you're wasting your time, energy, passion and effort. The price you pay for that indulgence is less time and capacity to do your own great work.
  • Have two working spaces. When we begin our working day starting up our computer and churning through our emails, we lock our body and our brain into good work mode: productive, efficient, and processing what needs to be. Great work takes a different type of thinking--one where you want to be creative, strategic, and focused. Shifting to that type of thinking is almost impossible when you're in good work mode. Setting up a different space to do Great work will help. It doesn't have to be a big deal. It could be a meeting room down the hall, a table at the cafeteria, a coffee shop, or even just a different space on your desk. I have two desks in my office--one with my computer on it and one which is (mainly) clear of junk where I do my great work.
(Lion tamer image from the National Media Museum)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.