Why Is Your Work Never Done?

by Carey Nieuwhof

Ever feel like your work is never finished?

You can’t quite stop working at home. You wake up most mornings feeling like you’re just stepping back onto the treadmill that never stops.

On rare occasions, you think you’re done (at least for now), but then you head out for dinner or take a walk only to start thinking about all the different ways you could have tackled the situation at work. Suddenly you’re not ‘off’ anymore.

Even on vacation, you don’t really feel free. Work is on your mind, even when you’re a thousand miles away from it.

More and more leaders feel like their work is never done.

The challenge, of course, is that the more you feel like your work is never finished, the closer you edge to feeling finished.

Why is that?

Well, there are a number of factors at work.

This is a far greater problem for people today than it ever was for our parents or grandparents. Things have changed radically since the 60s and even since the 90s.

Some of the factors at work are beyond your control: to fight them is like fighting gravity.

But there’s one thing you can change, and it’s the #1 reason your work is never done.

First the reasons why it’s so difficult, which are the factors you can’t really change because they’re cultural, not personal.

The more you feel like your work is never finished, the closer you edge to feeling finished.

Flex Hours

Flex hours were supposed to liberate people from the tyranny of 8 to 4 or 9 to 5. And some extend, they did.

A defined start and finish time to work left a lot of office workers feeling like they lived in an arbitrary prison. After all, why should a responsible employee have to sit behind a desk or cubicle when they could be at their child’s school play and get their work done earlier or later?

It all makes perfect sense.

Except that when there’s no clean start and clean finish to work, there’s no clean start or clean finish to work. Everything gets lost in the messy mud of “did I really do enough?”

There’s definitely a group of people who take advantage of flex hours to cheat their employers. But I suspect there’s an even larger group of responsible people who end up doing more because there are no longer any clear boundaries.

Flexible hours really means many people just work more hours.

Your Work Isn’t Tangible

If you work at an auto plant or even at Starbucks, there’s a tangibility to work that almost no one in an office, firm or church experiences.

You start your shift and produce X number of SUV steering wheels or Frappuccinos, and you’re done. Five hours after your shift ends nobody’s thinking, “I wonder if I should be installing more steering wheels right now.”

The challenge with knowledge workers (pretty much all office, ministry workers and a growing number of entrepreneurs) is that nobody’s quite sure how to measure what we do, including us.

Sure, you can measure bank balances, attendance, customer acquisition, growth rates and the like. But how do you really measure what you do in a day?

It’s harder to find a sense of accomplishment when you met with someone for an hour and there was no defined outcome.

Maybe you should have a dozen more meetings like that. Or maybe none. Who knows?

If you’re a preacher or writer like me, who knows whether what you did accomplished anything? Sure, over the long haul you’ll see results, but every sermon could be ‘better’ and every article could be more polished or have stronger ideas.

It’s just so intangible.

The intangibility of ministry creates a tangible angst in many leaders.

More than a few people compensate by looking for other wins in their lives that are measurable. That’s why I love cutting my lawn and cleaning my car. There’s a before and after. The results are clear.

At work, they’re never that clear.

As a result, you feel like you’re never done.

The Mission Is Endless

Adding to the sense of never being done many of us experience is the size of the mission facing us.

In church, there are always more people to reach. Even if your church is the largest in town, most of your town doesn’t attend church and the majority of those people likely don’t have a growing relationship with Christ.

In business, there are always more opportunities.  Even if your company is on a 30% growth curve, somebody down the road is experiencing 10x growth. And there are 7 billion people on the planet anyway to reach anyway, right?

A lot of us have an endless mission. There’s just always more.

The problem with having ‘more’ as a standard is that more has no end point.

You never feel done because, well, you aren’t.

Your Work Lives In Your Pocket

Previous generations have lived with intangible work and an endless mission. Arguably they handled it better than we’re handling it.

Why? Well, one reason is they never carried phones.

Your challenge is your work lives in your pocket. You carry it with you wherever you go. Even on vacation.

As a result, you feel like your work is never finished.

When you check the time or the weather forecast, you can’t help but notice the eighteen unread emails that have piled up in the last hour.

Co-workers text you at dinner. Friends ping you while you’re watching the game.

Add a laptop into the mix, and you’re never off when you’re off.

The line between work and home isn’t just blurred, it’s gone.

Thanks to phones and laptops, the line between work and home isn’t just blurred, it’s gone.

The #1 Reason You Feel Like Your Work Is Never Finished

All of the reasons listed above are huge factors in how we feel day to day and why the struggle is real.

But none of them is the key reason you feel like you’re never done.

You know what is?

It’s this: You feel like you’re work is never finished because you don’t have a strategy.

What you need is a strategy to figure out how to handle the pressures of flex hours, intangible work, an endless mission and your constantly buzzing phone.

After all, none of us can go back to 1974 when no one had a phone and office hours were office hours. And probably many of us won’t work at an auto plant or in retail where there are clear lines.

As a result, self-leadership has become critical. Most of us have no idea how to lead ourselves.

If someone asked you right now What’s you strategy for handling the constant pressure of work, what would your answer be?

Most leaders I know would have no answer.

Frankly, I didn’t either until ten years ago.

Self-leadership has become critical, and most of us have no idea how to lead ourselves.

www.careynieuwhof.com. Used by permission.

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