From the book Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem.
Working harder is often confused with working effectively, especially in countries like the US and Australia that have a harder, faster, longer mentality when it comes to work. So how can you get a bead on your own work and determine if you’re working on the stuff that matters or just on the stuff that your boss packs into your day?
Peterson and Nielson define real work as work that is critical to and aligned with the key goals of an organisation—whether we’re talking about your entire company or your one-man wolf pack. Fake work, conversely, only has the illusion of value. Time, energy and money are funneled towards projects that don’t help the organisation or the individual achieve their goals or produce effectively. Endless meetings, layers of paper work, reporting to multiple managers, and the misguided rewarding of people who work long and hard hours instead of short and efficient ones all contributes to a culture of fake work.
Identifying Fake Work
Pay attention to the context. In their analysis of workers and workplace patterns they found that people failed to see when the same task was effective in one context but ineffective in another. What is real work, like checking a few emails from key teammates, becomes fake work very quickly, like wasting hours every week replying to emails from people outside your core team.
Take stock of how much time you spend in meetings and training sessions. If you’re constantly tied up in ineffective and lengthy meetings and training sessions that fail to increase productivity or efficiency, you’re knee deep in mind-numbingly boring fake work.
You spend an inordinate amount of time working on (or assigning) tasks that don’t contribute to real growth and development. The running joke about TPS reports in the movie Office Space is as funny as it is precisely because nearly all of us can relate to, on some level, the experience of doing meaningless reports and office busywork that nobody reads or cares about.
You are unclear exactly what your job description is and/or fail to check the tasks dumped upon you against the greater company or personal goals. If it feels like your job description has become “whatever my boss arbitrarily demands” and you’ve taken to doing tasks handed down to you automatically without weighing them against the greater mission of the organisation (or even your department), you’re falling into this trap.
Fake work is often difficult to spot because it’s easy to not notice your job description slowly shifting as your boss starts assigning more and more arbitrary work or perhaps you were even hired to do fake work right from the start—companies often have entrenched traditions and methods of doing things that are part of a greater history of fake work and inefficiency. Continually ask yourself if the work you are doing is furthering the goals of your company, your professional goals, and your personal goals. If you’re lucky the answer will be a frequent affirmative, if you’re in an environment swamped with fake work you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and start making changes.
. So you have a lot of fun at work?
. Who works the hardest in your office?
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