4 Easy steps to make pointless work purposeful

Is all work exciting? Not necessarily.  There are always those ‘pointless activities’ to perform.  Activities that seem to serve no purpose and are a drain on your time.  Often, there’s no escaping these boring activities- whether you’re the business owner or the junior-most employee. Sometimes, these activities are taken on as a way of staying busy.  Our inexorable need to be useful makes us take on activities that make us feel busy. 

But all seemingly pointless work is not without purpose.  There are some activities which while prima facie pointless, do serve a larger purpose.  This article is a stepwise guide to find the purpose in those ‘pointless but purposeful’ activities. 

Step 1:  Identify all seemingly pointless activities

Maintain a log of your day for a week.  That might be boring, but it isn’t pointless.  You’ll be surprised by the number of pointless activities you perform. Make a list of all those activities.

Step 2: Segregate ‘hopeless pointless’, ‘purposeful pointless’ and ‘purposeful’

All pointless activities are not equal.  There are ‘hopeless pointless’ activities which are clearly just a waste of time.  For example, meetings without an agenda.  Those activities are best removed from your schedule.  Or if they must be done, delegate.  There are others which though seemingly pointless, serve a purpose.  We’ll call those ‘purposeful pointless’ activities. 

Source: https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/work-cartoons/page/4/

‘Hopeless pointless’ activities are a drain on time and energy.  Other than keeping us busy, they serve no purpose.  In fact, they reduce our efficiency in performing all other activities.  Identifying them is difficult and often painful.  They are often ingrained into our schedule.  Acknowledging their pointlessness is admitting that we’ve been doing something wrong for some time.  That’s always difficult!  And if we stop doing them, it leaves a hole in our schedule which might make us feel useless.

Its worth noting that what’s ‘hopeless pointless’ for one person may have a purpose for others.  And what’s ‘hopeless pointless’ at one point of time, doesn’t always remain that way.  For example, its ‘hopeless pointless’ for a large business owner to personally sign most issued cheques.  There should be people, systems and processes in place to perform that role.  On the other hand, for a fast-growing mid-size business, it’s worth the owner’s time to sign each cheque (or approve each digital transaction).  It allows the owner to intimately understand where the money is going.  And gives them great oversight over cashflows. 

So, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Be careful while segregating ‘hopeless pointless’ from ‘purposeful pointless’.  In my profession, reaching out to clients can often seem pointless.  Why call or meet when there’s no immediate consulting project to win?  It might only seem a purposeful conversation when there’s business visible.  Yet, it only appears pointless if I look at it from the purpose of winning more business.  That’s not a purpose, that’s an outcome.  If I look at it from the purpose of opening a window into a business leaders mind, it suddenly looks quite purposeful.  That helps me provide better solutions to my clients.  It helps me write blogs about things which matter to my clients.  It keeps my mind happy. 

Once you’ve sorted out your list into ‘hopeless’ and ‘purposeful’ pointless, move whatever remains to a ‘purposeful’ list. Start eliminating the hopeless pointless activities.

Step 3:  Revisit your ‘purposeful’ list

In Step 1 and 2, we segregated ‘hopeless pointless’ and ‘purposeful pointless’.  Yet, we need to take a hard look at what’s left.  These are activities where we see a significant amount of purpose.  Yet, we easily mistake pointless activities for purposeful. 

It’s fashionable for businesses to have a purpose.  One all-consuming mantra which gives meaning to everything that a company does.  Ikea, for example, has a mission of “creating a better, everyday life”.  That doesn’t mean too much!  Such purposes are often disconnected from our everyday activities. Yet, it’s possible to justify every little activity we do basis that purpose.  Should we spend time attending that meeting?  With a high-sounding purpose, the answer is probably yes.  Get rid of these types of activities.

Having one all-consuming purpose works for some leaders.  And that’s great.  The point is, it’s difficult to build something great when you are chained to a singular purpose. 

Step 4: Make your ‘purposeful pointless’ list purposeful

At this point, it shouldn’t be too hard to see the activities which you thought were pointless becoming more purposeful.  The trick is not to be chained to a singular purpose.  Break purpose down. And many of those seemingly pointless activities will start looking purposeful.  If they still seem pointless, then ask if the pointless activity, when combined with a few other pointless activities, has any purpose.  If it does, great!  If it doesn’t, drop it into the ‘hopeless pointless’ bucket and eliminate, automate or delegate. 

Closing thoughts We need to find joy and satisfaction in the activities we do.  And getting rid of ‘hopeless pointless’ activities is a great place to start.  For the rest of your activities, there’s always a purpose.  Only be sure that you link your activities to your near- and medium-term strategies and priorities.  And don’t fall into the trap of having a singular purpose.

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