Work = Effort + Progress

As part of my recent reading of Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book Designing Your Life, I reflected on the role of work in my life. I was challenged to answer questions about what work means, what good work deserves to be and what experience, growth and fulfillment have to do with it. The book challenged me to write a manifesto, a philosophy of work. These are some of my words from that exercise.

The notion of work is broad and complicated. The best way for me to understand things of this nature is to break them into their constituent parts, look at each piece on it’s own and then put them back together with a more clear idea of how they can relate to each other.

The hard sciences approach to work (as defined in physics) is an interesting place to start. In physics, a force is said to do work when it’s action causes movement of an object in the same direction. In other words, work is effort plus progress. Two simple but critical components. Work with no progress is busyness and progress without effort is just inevitable change. 

Effort can take many forms and our definitions of progress will differ from industry to industry, vocation to vocation and even person to person. Effort is time, it’s attention, and it’s sweat. Progress can be financial, social, political and even personal.

If effort is a function of time, attention and sweat it seems that the best kind of work demands all three, ideally in balance. Good work can involve healthy combinations of these things from separate places or in some instances, be fulfilled simultaneously. For those of us who have centered a professional sense of work around digital form-factors and online interactions, we often search out intentional forms of physical activity to supplement our time and attention effort.

I think about someone like my dad, who worked in a shop on his feet (or back/stomach/side) all day, everyday. He never once considered going to “the gym”. His work already demanded his time, attention and sweat. On the contrary, I think about people who may have jobs that take their time while their attention is elsewhere -- a writer who waits tables at night, an aspiring photographer who works an admin job, an actor who bartends.

To be proud of our effort we need things that are worthy of our time, demand and excite our attention, and afford us the opportunity to sweat sometimes. Effort.

To make progress in anything we must first develop a deep understanding of where we are and also a vision for where we want to be.

Where are you now?
Where do you want to go?
What do you really care about?
What do you want your legacy to be?

These are difficult questions to answer.  A personal definition of progress is probably the toughest question we face as individuals — but also the most valuable. At the moment, progress takes a few shapes for me. I think about things like personal growth, social change, relational and financial.  A different season, a different measure of progress.

[to be cont...]