Your Outcome: Figure out who the things you do are really for.
See how whether the work you do is actually “above the line” or “below the line” in terms of whether you’re getting ahead, or just treading water.
Welcome to day 19 of 30 Days of Getting Results.
In day 18, we learned how to add more creative hours to your week.
Today, we learn how to get clarity on who the work we do is really for.
Clarity Creates Courage
With great clarity, comes great conviction. When you know who you are actually doing things for, you can check whether what you’re doing is really valued, or if there is something higher priority. You can then invest more of your time and energy in things that have more value.
More importantly, you can better map the value you create to what people actually care about, including yourself.
When something you do is actually for you, make sure it’s what you really value. When something you do is for something else, make sure it’s what they really want or care about.
This one simple practice will help you avoid crossed-expectations with yourself and others.
It will also help you avoid feeling underappreciated, and it will also help you actually flow more value for yourself and others on a regular basis.
A little clarity goes a long way.
What Value Are You Delivering?
When you throw time and energy at things, look at it in terms of “value delivered” versus “activity performed.”
Also keep in mind that value is in the eye of the beholder … whether it’s value to yourself, to your manager, for the company, or for the world.
Value is in the Eye of the Beholder
One common pitfall is throwing a lot of time and effort at things, only to find that when you’re done, nobody cares. You need to figure out who you are really doing it for, and how valued it really is.
- If it’s for you, don’t expect appreciation. If it’s actually for you, that’s perfectly fine. You have to take care of your needs and wants, too. Just don’t expect others to appreciate it, since it’s not actually for them. If you keep feeling a lack of appreciation, then ask yourself, “Who was I really doing it for?” If it was actually for yourself, then figure out whether it was what you most cared about, or whether you could have invested the same time in something else and made more impact.
- If it’s for somebody else, find out how much they really care. If you were doing it for somebody else, ask them whether what you’re working on is really the most important thing to them, right now. Check with them! Whether it’s your customer or your partner or whoever, it’s easy to assume they should value it, just because you do, or because you think they should. It’s also very possible that what was important to them at one point, is no longer as important (time changes what’s important.)
- If you’re working on a lot of low-priority items, don’t expect to get the rewards. Your success depends on figuring out their true priorities and mapping the value you deliver to that. At work, I find that people don’t always know what they really value, so I tend to simply ask, “What are some of your worst problems on your plate?” This helps quickly separate all the things a manager might tell you to do versus what’s really on their radar and what they really care about.
- Don’t become a dumping ground. The more you work on low-priority items, the more you become a dumping ground. The more you become a dumping ground, the busier you get; and the busier you get, the more overloaded you will feel. Now the worst happens—you’re overworked, underappreciated, and no fun to be around.
- Get off the treadmill. By failing to work on what’s valuable and by failing to understand and reset expectations, you’ve worked yourself into an unrewarding, high-stress scenario.
A common scenario on a team is where somebody spends a lot of time ramping up and learning. They aren’t actually delivering value for the team yet. They get frustrated that they don’t feel appreciated and they say how much time they’ve spent learning or figuring things out or working hard.
The lens they are missing is that they are just doing what’s expected which is “below the line”, and they haven’t risen “above the line” yet. They need to see that, at that stage or at this point in time, the value is actually for them and that it’s their own growth.
Above the Line or Below the Line
Some things you do will be “value-add.” Others will just be expected. In the following figure, the dotted line separates what’s expected from what’s valued:
You need to consider whether the work you do is “above the line” or “below the line.” If you want to maximize your impact, you need to first take care of what’s expected, and then focus on value “above the line.”
Above the Line (Valued)
Here’s a figure to help you visualize “above the line.”
Work that’s “above the line” is considered value-add. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Note that even in “above the line” work, you should still prioritize to maximize value to yourself or others.
Below the Line (Expected)
Here’s a figure to help you visualize “below the line.”
Work that’s “below the line” is just expected. It’s like treading water. The funny thing about “below the line” work is that doing more of it won’t get you ahead, but not doing it will likely cause you pain. Some people call this “the cost of doing business” or “the tax you pay.”
Points to Ponder to Deliver More Value
Here are some points for you to ponder to help you deliver more value to yourself and others:
- Is the work you do considered “above the line” or “below the line”?
- Where are you at in terms of achieving results: “above the line” or “below the line”?
- Are you working on stuff that’s valued?
- Who is the value for: you or somebody else?
The important thing is for you to have an appropriate frame of reference for the value of what you’re doing.
If you don’t feel appreciated for what you’re doing, this might be “below the line” to somebody else.
You also might find that you’re stuck taking care of everything that’s “below the line” and you can’t get your head above water.
The fix is usually reprioritizing what’s on your plate, figuring out what the real values and expectations are, and resetting expectations with yourself and others.
The last place you want to be is grinding away on something that neither you nor anyone else will value, or worse, missing basic expectations that minimizes your overall effectiveness.
- For the things that are on your plate, get clarity on who they are really for. It’s fine for things to be both for you and other people, but if it’s for other people, you might want to check whether they actually value it or would prefer something else. Don’t be surprised if what they value is not the same as what you value. However, you can often find or create a bridge.
- Figure out the things that you really need to do for yourself. Do them guilt-free. Remember that the better you can take care of yourself, the better you can take care of others. Build a firm foundation and a platform for yourself, so you can do great things and flow value for yourself and others. One way to remind yourself of some of your basic needs is to explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
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