“I’m suffering death by meeting right now, so I do the work on nights and weekends.”
That’s how a leader explained when they get their work done. It’s a common refrain. Maybe it matches your experience.
When do you do your best work?
Set aside giving up your nights and weekends.
What is the likelihood of doing our best work when we’re drained and distracted?
It’s not a condition for success.
Knowledge work is not factory work
For a factory to operate successfully, each person needs to do their part, work similar shifts/hours, and focus on a specific task.
Knowledge work largely applies skills and experiences to novel challenges and hard, complex problems. Our purpose is to solve the right problems to deliver recognized value. It’s why I maintain hourly work is antithetical to good work.
Factories measure success by output.
Knowledge work is best measured by outcomes.
Why do we use (and accept) factory-like approaches and working conditions for knowledge work?
The key to knowledge work: we need time to think.
We need time and space for ideas to develop, marinate, incubate, and percolate. It helps when we can sit with problems long enough for our experience and insights to swirl about in our brains, revealing patterns, clues, and ideas on what to try next.
Why we don’t get the time we need
But the daily assaults from the unholy trinity of chaos, friction, and resistance rob us of the time and destroy our energy. Combined with the tyranny of the urgent and death from a thousand meetings, we watch our value erode, trust decline, and people burn out.
Worse, consider the detrimental impact of the task-switching penalty and attention residue that builds each day and compounds week-to-week.
What happens when we don’t get time to think?
Disconnected from our value, feeling defeated, and burning out, we start more work than we finish. It takes heroics to get anything done.
In quiet moments of reflection, leaders admit they aren’t doing their best work, work they are proud of. They feel stagnant in their career, wonder if any of this is worth it, and don’t know if anyone even sees the work they are doing.
You feel it, your colleagues struggle with it, and your team suffers through the same thing.
The benefit of more time to think: deliver value faster
Embrace solving hard, complex problems to increase your value. This is good for you, your team, and your organization, because the reward for getting better at solving problems is more problems to solve.
Getting more time to think means solving more problems.
More time to think fuels our growth, contribution, and recognition.
As a leader, more time to think allows you to solve the right problems and deliver value faster.
When we focus on outcomes over outputs, we need to make the space for thinking and help people learn to use it.