Rena Tom Rena Tom

Work Ethic and the Ethics of Work


Hi all, it’s been a very long time. Lots of changes going on in the background here which I am not ready to expound on but I am still here, still doing my thing and working hard…and that leads me to today’s exploration. We’ve been hearing some justified backlash about “being busy” and it’s true that to be well-rounded and more engaged with your family, friends and society in general, you need to step away from the machine, the laptop or workbench or paintbrush every now and again. But, we tell ourselves, there’s so much to do! There’s never-ending *stuff* that needs to happen in order to advance.

I feel that having a “good work ethic” doesn’t only mean doing work tirelessly, or without complaint. It means you have a good grasp of the work that you are doing, and why – a big picture awareness, whether it’s creating a website, sewing a jacket, teaching a class or mowing a lawn. I think this message gets lost within the rhetoric of “doing what you love” which, yes, I am guilty of having promoted in the past.

February is a tough month. The shortness of February makes me hyperaware of time, or lack thereof. My to-do list seems endless and yet there are things that have to happen ASAP, and others that simply don’t. I wish there was some magical software that could represent this fact visually, easily and accurately. In lieu of that, however, we can audit our own schedules and commitments – take time to match up the “why” with our values and our current capabilities.

Let’s look at it from another perspective. Do you need to advance on all fronts, all the time? Probably not. I’m learning that it’s okay to maintain, and it is a hard lesson. I’m guilty of pushing forward as hard as I can but it’s not sustainable, it’s not even possible if you want to do anything well.

Will you do an experiment with me this month? Look at things you’d like to get done. What has an absolute deadline? What can be maintained for the time being? And what is a long-term goal?

1) Allow yourself to push the long-term goals aside; they’re not going anywhere without you. It’s a short month and it’ll be okay to let them lie, to gain some perspective about them later.

2) At the same time, reevaluate the ‘maintain’ list. This is where you can gain efficiencies (in future months), to keep maintaining but at a measured, high quality. I feel like this is where having a strong work ethic butts up against the ethics of Work, which for me is to do something that is beneficial, and does not cause harm. So much work ends up being not-necessary, if you scrutinize it. It’s fine to work hard if you can take pride in it, and you can do that if you know it’s worthwhile work. Kill off that which you are not sure about, and maintain high(er) standards for the rest.

3) The deadlines – face them and get them done. I hate having things looming overhead. If you need help, ask for help. Even if it’s not your usual style, try to ask this month. It’s a short month.

Okay, so maybe this exercise will help you, and maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll get less done in February – or maybe you’ll get done exactly what needs to get done, and feel good about it. How one feels about one’s work matters. Doing work ethically and mindfully should matter as much as being creative, being productive, or being first/successful/disruptive/whatever floats your boat.

Thanks for listening, friends.

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  1. Hi Rena, I totally agree with you about February bringing on the panic of ALL the *stuff* that I have to get done. I always find myself taking on too much and none of it gets done. 
    Here’s to focusing on the immediate to-dos and worrying about the bigger picture next month!

    P.S. Great Blog!

  2. Thank you for posting this at just the time I need to hear it.  

  3. […] still working on focusing myself and my work, and this post by Rena Tom made me think a little harder about all the things I’m so busy with right […]

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