Help! My work is constipated.


Accumulated putrefied matter is never good.  Release is essential.  A healthy body needs to…you know…release every day.   We juice, we sweat, we move our bowels, and we feel lighter.   The same applies to a healthy heart; we cry, scream, dance, tell the truth and let go and feel at peace.  We let go of unneeded possessions and bad relationships and gain clarity.  Or at least we try.

Despite my efforts to let go and make space,  I still felt stuck.  Then I realized my work was constipated, badly.   There were too many half-started projects stuck in the pipes, rotting.  I felt sluggish, tired and unfocused, slogging through the day and dragging myself home at 8pm nearly every night, wondering where the day went.

I wanted to leave work every day feeling energized, accomplished and ready to embrace other kinds of work, adventure & joy. 

Being familiar with the symptoms of toxicity,  I decided to go on an urgent Ultimate Work Detox.  Here’s what I learned:

The top three things that were constipating my work were:

1) Accumulated putrefied matter, also known as projects, initiatives, deadlines & responsibilities that were clogging up my to-do list.   You know,  I’ll get to them tomorrow, there are always more important fires to put out today.  So the list got more bloated every day and becomes a huge energy drain because I always felt the weight of all these things hanging over my head.  I was also terrified that all those things I was putting off would fall through the cracks and then come back and haunt me in a bad way.

2) Sluggishness. I found myself staying until 9PM and taking work home on the weekends, yet I never felt like I was getting anything done.  The fact that such martyr-esque behavior is considered virtuous in conventional wisdom (be the first to arrive and the last to leave),  made me feel guilty for getting done early, so I purposefully adopted a more leisurely pace, checking my email every few minutes, taking coffee breaks, and filling my days with tons of useless motions. 

3) Going through useless motions.   In short, I spent a lot of time doing things that made me look really busy but didn’t further any of my goals and objectives.

So how to eradicate these top three offenders? 

Flush out accumulated putrefied matter.  

1) Block out an hour to ruthlessly go through your to-do list.

  • Pick out the things that actually matter.  Delete the rest. Delete anything that you know you’ll never get around to. Especially suspect are those projects that sound virtuous in theory,  are eye-bleedingly boring in practice, and at the end of the day won’t move any of your present objectives forward  (e.g  reading a technical manual cover to cover).
  • Go through your to-do list again.  Look for anything that needs to get done, but you don’t personally have to do.  Especially suspect are things that really aren’t within your job description. Delegate them.  Or put the ball in the right court.  Everyone is better off for it.
  •  Look at what’s left.  Separate the fires and items with a deadline or a deliverable from the items that are initiatives or ideas.
  •  Starting with the deadline/deliverable list, look for easy things you can knock out in a few minutes and knock them all out.
2) The next day, block out an hour (or more) at the beginning of your day to work through the accumulated putrefied matter.   I find it really important to get that hour done before the emails, bosses, phone calls, clients, patients, or whatnot bring in a whole new set of work.
3) Throughout the rest of the day, fight to make sure every new project, idea, initiative keeps moving so that nothing ends up in the APM pile.

Cure sluggishness.  

1) Check out Parkinson’s law:  Work expands so as to fill the time available for completion.

2) Decrease the time available for completion of work.  Pick your working hours and stick to them.  Militantly.  If you can’t get everything done in eight hours a day, you’re either terribly inefficient or you’re doing it wrong.

3) In addition to setting fixed work hours, I  use the absolutely genius Pomodoro Technique.  You divide your time into 25 minute blocks with 5 minute breaks (“Pomodoros”) and taking a longer break every four Pomodoros.  I’m telling you you’ll work like a fiend with the clock ticking and the knowledge that in just a few minutes, you can take a break guilt-free.   The Pomodoro technique also has the added benefit of forcing you to remain in the moment, focused only on the task at hand.  The website has a free e-book and everything you need to get started.

Eliminate useless motions.  

1) Identify your useless motions.  I define useless motions as things you do instead of taking actions towards my desired results and objectives and goals and dreams.  Doing excessive research, studying  or training instead of taking action does not equal action.  Reorganizing your email inbox does not equal action.   Creating a pristine filing system does not equal action.  Writing a flawless memo or email when a phone call will clearly suffice does not equal action.  Going to meetings when you already know the information does not equal action.   Reorganizing your desk drawers does not equal action.  Doing mindless work that should be delegated or outsourced does not equal action.    There is a time for all of these activities,  but for the most part, they’re busywork and do not equal action.

2) Eliminate all useless motions immediately.  You won’t even miss them.

Implementing the cure for work-related constipation  is kind of like a juice detox.  At first, it really sucks, because you’re craving all those little devil old habits, but in a week or so, everything gets better.  I finally started leaving work (at 5:30!) feeling amazing and energized–excited to enjoy all my other projects and activities, and satisfied that I did  I hope you do, too 🙂


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