When you’re on the job, you might feel like the last thing you’re doing is meaningful work. Like you’re stuck in a rut and just going through the motions.
Email? Check. Phone calls? Check. Data entry? Check. Meeting? Check. Lunch? Check. More email. More calls. Home.
Whether or not your days feel this mundane, you still might not be involved in exhilarating, engaging work that makes you happy.
In Do More Great Work, Canadian coach Michael Bungay Stanier — founder of the company Box of Crayons — helps readers “stop the busywork, and start the work that matters.”
Specifically, the book features a variety of exercises, which Stanier calls maps, and thought-provoking questions that help readers figure out what their own meaningful work is and how to do more of it. (It also includes inspiring words from Seth Godin, Penelope Trunk and others.)
Below are three exercises from Stanier’s book on identifying your Great Work and taking action.
But first, let’s start at the beginning: What is Great Work?
According to Stanier, Great Work is “work that is meaningful to you, that has an impact and makes a difference. It inspires, stretches, and provokes. Great Work is the work that matters.”
When you’re doing Great Work, you feel like “time stands still and you’re working at your best effortlessly,” Stanier writes. But Great Work also is discomforting, because you’re trying new things and may have a fear of failing.
And that’s OK. The key is to push through it. So take out your journal or several pieces of paper, and try each exercise. Stanier also offers free templates of these exercises, which you can download here. (Note: the maps are from the first edition of the book.)
What is your Great Work? One of the ways Stanier helps you discover this is by considering your past peak moments.
“A peak moment is a time when you could see and feel yourself doing something more than what you typically do, when you stepped beyond where you normally stay and did something new, tried something different, and made an impact.”
Instead of focusing on whether you did well, won or were praised in your peak moments, Stanier suggests asking yourself: “Did this have meaning for me? Did this stretch me, teach me, make me happy?”
- Think about three or four peak moments from your entire career. You also can pick a few from your life in general, such as a hobby you like or something you’ve done with family or friends.
- Give each moment a title and write a short description of what happened. Stanier also provides a list of questions to ask yourself, such as: “How did you feel? What was your role? What did you do? What didn’t you do? What are you particularly proud of?”
- Examine your peak moments, and consider what similarities or themes you see. Some will give you hints about what you like to do, while others will concern the types of situations that help you do your Great Work.
Role models, whether they’re a historical figure, a sports icon, a teacher or friend, help motivate us and push us toward doing Great Work.
Stanier suggests thinking of your role models and who they are, instead of solely focusing on their accomplishments. Like he says, he’ll never play tennis like Rafael Nadal, but “I can strive to emulate his tenacity, his refusal to give up.”
Stanier features a helpful exercise to help you tap into the power of role models.
- Think of eight role models who inspire you. As Stanier says, they can be famous or not famous, real or not or alive or dead. (They don’t even have to be people! They could be anything from a car to a company.) “Scan your world, and think about people whose stories capture your imagination, folks you’ve always held in high esteem, who embody something you think is impressive—You might even be a bit envious of them.”
- Narrow your list down to the five most compelling role models.
- For each role model, list four characteristics—behaviors or qualities—you most admire. See if any patterns emerge with the role models you’ve chosen. For example, Stainer says, if you notice creativity is a continuing theme, it’s likely that your own Great Work will involve cultivating your creativity.
When it Comes Time to Take Action
Stanier features several exercises that help readers come up with ideas of what they can do. In one activity, readers answer probing questions such as “What’s the fun thing to do? What’s the bravest thing to do? What’s the provocative thing to do?”
Once you have a list of your ideas, it’s time to take action—which for so many of us is the hard part. For example, thinking and planning usually aren’t a problem for me. It’s when I have to take action that I often get paralyzed. If you’re an overthinker and perfectionist like me, you might never get started on a project. You might be too busy playing out the ins and outs of each step. You might feel overwhelmed with your options or ideas and have no clue where to begin.
This exercise can help! It involves asking yourself a series of questions to get to the final one: “What will you do?” This last question becomes the action that you commit to.
But first answer the following about the ideas you have:
- “What’s the easiest thing to do?”
- “What would have the most impact?”
- “What do you want to do?” (This is an idea that you’re most excited about.)
Before making the decision on what Great Work you’ll pursue, Stanier suggests connecting with your peak moments and considering what will improve if your project is successful.
So get out there, and start accomplishing your own Great Work!
I received an extra copy of Do More Great Work, so I’d like to give it away to one reader! Just tell us: What is your Great Work and what is one action that you’ll take to start doing your Great Work? For instance, you might discover that your Great Work is writing about mental health and how it’s affected you. You might start by creating a blog.
By the way, I’ll use random.org to generate the winner. You have one week from today to leave your comment. Thanks!
Update: The winner of the giveaway is comment #2 J Mac! I’ll be contacting you shortly. Thanks so much for everyone’s comments!