Expanding my definition of working

One of my November Happiness Project resolutions is ‘loosen your grip on definitions’. As I’ve started working for myself this year, I’ve come face to face with how I define work and how this definition may not be serving me. This month’s resolution has provided me with the perfect opportunity to play around and shake things up a little.

I’ve identified two unhelpful beliefs I’ve held about work. These are…

To be working I need to be visibly working on something; gain clear results and progression forwards.

If somebody walked past me right now they’d need to be able to recognise what I’m doing as work.

Why these beliefs are unhelpful

I’ve been focusing too much on ‘busy work’. This is often something we use to distract ourselves from the real work we need to do – be that writing chapters of our book, or creating a new e-course. Busy work is stuff we can tick off the to-do list and it has its place, of course, but it’s not the sole definition of work.

As for the second belief I identified, it shows I’ve been letting other people’s opinion of me shape my life for me. Placing too much value on how I am perceived by others is something I’m trying to work on. So why not with the way I define working too?

How I’m working to break out of these definitions

Recently (by which I mean about three months ago) I had time set aside to do creative work on a theatre project. The time was for writing, and so I struggled with the belief that if I wasn’t actually writing during all of those minutes and hours set aside for this then I wasn’t really working. During this time I went out for my daily walk, and ended up having lots of productive thoughts and ideas about the project. You’ve probably noticed this sort of thing as well; solutions to problems, or new ideas come when you aren’t directly working on them.

The thing I find with creative work is that your brain is always working on the project and ideas, even if not consciously. So, allowing ourselves to expand our definition of what it means to be working can only be beneficial. If we force ourselves to stare at a blank page for hours we may have a torturous time, but if we allow ourselves to take a walk and still consider this to be working time we might get lots of new ideas.

Procrastination & expanding our definition of work

Of course there are tasks that simply have to get done at your desk and that’s that. These are the things that have a clear start and finish; sending an email, or making BACS payments for instance – the busy work. With these things we need to be aware we don’t slip into procrastination. There’s no other way to get them done than to just sit down and do them. With the other stuff, though, the more ideas-y stuff, mixing it up and loosening our grip on what working looks like can be really beneficial.

Some ways to play with what working looks like

Get outside – go for a walk and allow ideas to percolate as you breathe the fresh air and rejuvenate the mind and body with exercise. Suggest a walking meeting and see how this changes the dynamic of the meeting.

Ditch the computer – get some paper (the bigger the better in my opinion) and a pen (or pencil if you’re like me) and have a good old-fashioned scribble. I think there’s something in the idea of the connection between hand and brain/soul. Ideas often flow more easily for me when I’m not staring at a screen.

Do something weird – sometimes I talk out ideas and pace around, sometimes I dance about. I once visualised the world of a play and moved about inside it. Sometimes I use my body to express an idea. Go wild, do whatever you feel to do – it’s probably right and will lead to more productive and creative work (bonus points if you’re doing this in a shared office).

I think the thing to remember, is that however we feel we want to work on a project or idea is probably the right way. No matter whether someone else would recognise it as work – who cares? If you’re making progress in your own way – remembering progress is not always a straight line – and you feel you’re getting deeper into the thing then that’s it.


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