Let me share a secret: Employees who think work is a series of activities, and as long as they go about doing these activities, they do "work", are wrong. People holding such misconceptions will be the first up for grab by machines.

The days of conveyor belt working, when working was actually doing the same (pre-defined) physical thing over and over, are soon all gone and raplced by machines. The same thing will happen to most other, physical jobs in the future.

What you and I, and we all need to do, is become more goal oriented in our work, as opposed to activity oriented.

Achieving your goal in the smartest way possible is the job. Doing the activities to get there will become less and less as we come to rely more and more on automation.

Set yourself goals: short-term (daily), mid-term and long-term, then use your brain and creativity to figure out the smartest way to achieve these. Once you achieve a goal, take a pause, take a walk, celebrate, or at least make a conscious note of it. It makes you feel good about yourself.

Quickly jumping from place to place, comes at high context switching costs, and is a losing proposition. The machines are way to superior to you when it comes to context-switching.

"Working is not conducting a series of activities. It is achieving your goals in the smartest way possible".

Don’t care where, when, or how you work

At Northern.tech we live by keeping our promises. If you say you will deliver something by some date, you just do it. Almost no excuse justifies a broken promise.

At school focus is on doing things right (attend the class, read this book, do this, do that). Unfortunately, this procedural behavior often transfers itself into the workplace. However, at Northern.tech no appraisals is to be expected for slavishly following prescriptives.

You are not paid for showing up at work. You are paid for achieving goals. If you happen to achieve these goals best by working from a coffee shop, you work from a coffee shop. If you are most productive early in the morning, work early mornings.

Ask why

You probably have a long list of todos. Instead of repeatedly doing things over and over, ensure to ask yourself “why”, and do it several times to get to the root and real answer. Maybe there is a smarter way to achieve the goal that reduces your “work” by 50%. Celebrate the freed up time and start to creatively eliminate “work” elsewhere, while still achieving the purpose. Perfection is when you achieve your goals without being able to reduce any “work” any more.

Your goal should be to remove “work” through automation and smarter ways of working; doing the right things. In some cases, maybe you can eliminate some of the work you do completely because it no longer best serves its purpose and underlying goal. Wouldn’t that be great? The simpler a business can run, the better.

Balance it right

Be mindful of when you are working to get things right versus figuring out the right things.

Doing things right is reactive by nature, whereas focusing on the right things is proactive. There needs to be a healthy balance. Too much reactive work risks making you dull and bored. Being too proactive likely inhibits the ability to achieve your goals. Spend time to figure out what a healthy balance means to you in your role. At Northern.tech many use part of Fridays to focus on the whys and being more proactive.

Combining the two modes of working should be avoided. Do not question your ongoing work. Do not do actual work while thinking about what would be the smartest way to do this work. The ability to compartmentalize is like meditation in which your goal is to stay focused during the session.

Reduce, not append

Writing a 5 minutes speech normally takes longer than a 30 minutes speech because in the short version each word counts, and the limited time forces you to focus on only the most important parts. The same should hold true for businesses, but the typical focus on doing things right just leads to more and more work. More and more papers. More and more metrics to measure. More and more stuff to do. More and more meetings. At Northern.tech we value simplicity and reduction. It is through simplicity even the most complex organizations and products will prevail. By focusing on the goals, we deduct as opposed to append.

You know your proactive sessions have been successful when you have been able to reduce yours or other’s work.

Put it on your agenda

Unless you deliberately put something on the agenda, you will not succeed. Mindlessly wandering about following your important social media notifications popping up left and right will not lead you to a happy person at Northern.tech.

Similar to how you set aside time in your calendar to do certain pieces of work, show up at your doctor’s appointment, the daily stand-up, or a weekly team meeting, set aside time to think things over and ensure you focus on doing the right things.

Personally, I like to sit in my coach enjoying the view, drinking coffee and thinking about stuff. Whenever I work-out, I listen to podcasts, or watch “watch-later” youtube videos covering a certain topic of interest. All of this is explicitly on my agenda.

It is never too late

Covid-19 has forced many of us to change habits. Therefore, this can be a unique opportunity to try to work more proactively. Just do it! It is never too late. Start small. Put proactive work in your calendar right now.

If not now, when? If not you, who?!

Thomas Ryd

Co-founder and leader, California

thomas.ryd@northern.tech

Previous post

ECH2020
Northern.tech is supported by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Read more