It occurred to me today, that in the course of our work lives, we are continually faced with static and noise, that has little to no value to our end goals at all. It could be that 15th email in a conversation thread that has long lost its way, or that phone call from someone asking you for an answer to a question they have no idea why they’re asking, and don’t really care what the answer is, just so that they can say they had the conversation, or that tasks that makes you scratch your head and ask, who is going to derive any value from the energy, resource and time I’m about to expend on this.

It’s kind of depressing actually, when you look back on your day at work, and realise that the total magnitude achieved through the amount of effort expended is closer to zero than 1. It makes it harder to come into work the next day, knowing that the sands of time are just going to draw you closer to the middle of the hourglass then spit you out into the inverse, just so that it can all start again a few weeks from now.

Wow, bummer.

That is unless you decide that the only thing that matters during the work day, is that you only expend energy on tasks that have a measurable benefit to someone else. It doesn’t have to be direct, it could be indirect; the only thing that is important is that you are able to arrive at an answer to the question, how is what I’m about to do going to help someone else?

And it doesn’t have to be altruistic, or in the running for a Nobel Prize, it just needs to be truly productive.

How? Well, that’s easy. Next time someone sends you that email with no rational point or action, just delete it. Next time someone phones you with that lame request for blah blah blah, excuse yourself and hang up, in fact, anytime anyone tries to steal your time for unproductive tasks, rebuke them, and rebuke them hard!

Why? Because it sets a precedent, and it creates a cumulative effect. The precedent is, don’t approach me unless your intentions are true. Don’t approach me if you’re just going through the motions, or just wanting to fill time, or just wanting to look busy. Just don’t! What’s the cumulative effect? Well, it means you have more time to attack those meaty problems. The ones that everyone is too busy to get solved. And what’s more, the person who you rebuked now has some time on their hands to do something else. If they try and steal time from someone else, and that person rebukes them, finally they’re just going to find something productive to do. If everyone starts adopting that approach, keeping their eyes on the end goal, and evaluates every action using the simple poser, “Am I about to get something done, or am I about to waste someone’s time?”, then I’m convinced, the net effect will be dramatic.

And at least you won’t feel so confounded at the end of each day on your way home wandering, “How did I do so much today, and get so little done!?”