Mid day; second job of the day, I drove into a roughly cleared wooded area that was an incipient suburban neighborhood. My job that morning was to pressure test the water lines that had been freshly laid under the dirt road. Once the lines were certified, the road would be paved and "development" would ensue.
As I drove up, I recognized the consulting engineer relaxing on a stump and reading a novel. "Some guys have it easy." I teased. I wasn't being mean, and he knew it. "I don't get paid for what I do. I get paid for what I know," he responded. An excellent comeback I realized, and it gave me pause. I was in the category of being paid for what I did.
One of the great things about physical labor is I always knew when I was working. What's interesting about what I do now is I still always know when I'm working. My job now is to help people understand how their minds engage their time, attention, and energy. Anything I do now, not in support of that, isn't my work. I have to know stuff, but it's not my work until I do something for somebody. Success comes when my clients know why they did one thing instead of every other thing they could have done.
Robert Schrank knew when he was working. Schrank, the author in 1978 of Ten Thousand Working Days, the account of his 42-year working life including furniture maker, plumber, farmhand, auto worker, tool maker, union leader, social worker, city commissioner, and sociologist. His conclusion was that the further he got from physical labor and visible work products, the harder it was to know when he was working. He found he wasn't the only one.
" . . . At first I was surprised at how skillful people were in using up the time of day and yet producing so little. . . there seems to be a powerful inclination to do as little work as possible."
Schrank had the view that these people weren't necessarily lazy or oppositional. They were, in fact, energetically and creatively engaged all day. So what's going on?
Let's revisit our on-the-job, novel-reading engineer.
The poor sod didn't know what his job was. And his bosses didn't either.
He thought his job was to know all the engineering specifications for all the components of the project at hand. He did. He had passed all the tests, and held all the certifications.
What he didn't know was that his real job was to be a pain in the ass. He had to encourage, nudge, push, wheedle, needle, impede, and occasionally coerce an autonomous collective of hard, proud, and skilled individuals, to not cut corners. He needed to be doing that all day long.
And since these workers, individually and together, had the means, motive, and opportunity to lose him in a deep hole under a concrete pour, he had to convince the lead contractor that adherence to reasonable specs would be less disruptive to the job than a murder investigation.
In fact, his job was absolutely about what he did with what he knew. Because no one had put the above two paragraphs into his job description and then provided training and mentoring in the subtle art of ass paining, he was bounced off that job two weeks later.
So gentle reader, do you find yourself "using up the time of day and yet producing so little"
Yeah, a little wheedle and needle here, I'm looking at you.
It's okay. You can do this.
First, what is the doing that may not be in the job description, but is, in fact, your real job? Then what is the visible, measurable, and valuable product of that doing?
Now you can get better.
In closing, may I offer respect and appreciation to Stephen Fay, former editor of the Brattleboro Reformer. A quarter century ago, he hired me as a stringer to this local paper. I applied because I knew how to write a story. Stephen knew better. After he offered and I accepted, he shook my hand, and gave me my job description: "Frank. I want you to be a pain in the ass."
Stephen. How am I doing?