Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 142, June 2017 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

Previous Page   1   2  3  

Work Expands (Part 2)

Last month I introduced Parkinson's Law, which states that "Work will expand to fill the time allotted," and posed the question, "Why do people allow work to expand and fill their day, yet complain of being tired and overworked; but in our woodworking shops we never complain and usually feel energized and excited?" It is wood- working , after all. I also promised that if you could figure out the "why" and apply it successfully to businesses and bureaucracies, you could make a lot of money as a consultant. I can help you with the "why," but the practical real-world application is where the rubber hits the road, and it is tough.

Why wood- working is productive, energizing, exciting, fun, and efficient and work- working is not, is because wood- working represents "self-directed production in the pursuit of enjoyment." Remember that phrase… it's important… "self-directed production in the pursuit of enjoyment." We humans are endowed with a seemingly unlimited desire for stimulus gratification, and we will work very hard to get it.

Figure 3 - People will risk bee stings to get the sweet honey from a hive...anything for that
sugar high!

We can buy it on store shelves today, but when humans first discovered that "sweet" tastes good and that honey is sweet, intrepid stimulus gratification seekers would suffer bee stings and all sorts of travails to secure some of that sweet nectar. Humans will ruin families, careers, and more in pursuit of physical gratification; will riot, loot, even kill when hungry and then grow obese in the presence of abundant food. We humans have the capacity to abuse drugs and alcohol to the point of addiction or death, and will binge-watch stupid television shows until our brains turn to mush, all in the pursuit of "enjoyment." We will do anything, it seems, to get that "feel good" feeling.

It thus stands to reason that we want to feel good at work, too. It is our nature to pursue pleasure. But at a "job" others direct our pursuits… as employees we are not "self-directed." And herein lies the distinction… the self-direction part. Now it can get pretty deeply psychological from here, and I won't go there, but suffice it to say, if your work at work was wholly self-directed, you would always be doing what you wanted to do, not what someone else wants you to do, and you would be a whole lot happier. Unfortunately, businesses don't work that way. You might be turning out magnificent work, but if it is not the work the business wants or needs, you simply are not deemed to be "performing."

There are thousands upon thousands of examples, and I even cautioned years ago in this column… be careful what you wish for. Lot's and lot's of people wish they could "make a living doing what they love." As a woodworker, you may have these thoughts. But when the mortgage, utilities, and food on the table depends on your woodworking, you might find yourself doing jobs that aren't all that much fun. And building things for customers naturally removes the "self-directed" part of the equation. Bottom line, when your hobby becomes your livelihood, you may no longer be "self-directed."

Years back, during a meeting where a dozen or so people were participating to discuss a problem our business was facing, I noticed that four of the people perked up a bit when they offered suggestions. There was a glimmer of excitement behind their eyes. Those four began to bat ideas amongst themselves as if the rest of the people in the meeting had disappeared. They were engaged and excited. After the meeting wrapped up, I called these four individuals into my office and took them temporarily off their usual jobs and assigned them the special project of creating an answer to the problem our business was facing. And I was clear, "This is your project. No one will give you any direction, supervision, or input unless you ask for it, then you can choose to take their input or not. This is totally up to you. Have fun, get creative, surprise me." And I turned them loose.

In a matter of days these four energized… and drum roll, here is the key part… these four self-directed individuals came up with an answer and a plan that was beautiful, elegant, and absolutely stunning in its success. But this is virtually impossible to replicate throughout an entire organization, and it won't work with everyone. Remember, figuring out the answer is easy, practical application is hard.

In our hobby and pastime woodworking shops we are fully self-directed individuals. We do what we want, when we want. Of course we do what we do with an end-product in mind… a goal… but how we choose to pursue that goal and the order and what steps we take to get there are up to us. Some days I have some heavy things on my mind (like employee psychology) and I just need to think… a great day to get lost in thought while sanding a project or milling lumber. Other days I want to immerse myself in the craft of woodworking and it might be a great time to make some dovetail drawers or perhaps I feel creative and do a little inlay work or carving. I have multiple projects in the works, and I move these projects along, but what I choose to do each day is fully self-directed. And that makes me happy. When customers are waiting on a piece they commissioned you to build, you don't have a choice… you have to move their project forward, and we become "circumstance-directed."

There is another problem with self-directed work, too, that must be considered. You could procrastinate or slack off. Okay sometimes, of course, but spending an entire precious day in the shop (or at work) and not getting much accomplished is not a very rewarding experience. In my years of business experience, the happiest employees seemed to share certain traits. And I am finding that with woodworkers there is no difference. Self-motivated busy people are happier; everyone loves having their efforts recognized; and absolutely most important, happy workers (work-workers or wood-workers) can readily name off their day's accomplishments without a second of thought.

Recently, I individually interviewed a group of call center employees. Each had as a primary objective making outbound sales calls, and as a secondary objective, answering incoming calls when they were not on the phone. The company was having difficulty motivating its employees to make their outbound sales calls. Some employees said, "Oh, I was so busy today with incoming calls I hardly had time to do anything else." An analysis of the data, however, indicated that these employees were, on average, on an active in-bound phone call just 35 percent of the day.

Figure 4 - Individuals may achieve a degree of "self-direction” at work, but it is my
contention that a "self-directed team" is achievable only for short-duration or
single-project purposes
A small number of employees said, "I made X number of outbound calls today and generated X dollars of sales." The data showed that these same employees had also spent an average of 35 percent of their time answering inbound calls, but spent an additional 60 percent of their time making outbound calls. What was most interesting was that these employees seemed happier and more energized. And the workers who had been content to merely answer an incoming call and then let the "work expand to fill the time allotted" remembered or recounted few details of their day. Those that were proactively filling their day with productive work could recount significant details of their day, including near verbatim recitals of their most significant phone calls.

At the end of a day in your woodshop, do you excitedly tell others how much you accomplished? "Wow, I got all the boards jointed and planed for my next project," or "I got the first coat of finish on that table I have been building," or "I got the mortises cut for the chest I am making." Or at the end of the day do you have trouble pinpointing a single significant accomplishment? "I made some progress." That doesn't sound like much progress. My guess is that about 90+ percent of woodworkers fall into the "excited and energized" category. Fact is, I don't know a single woodworker who cannot tell me exactly what they accomplished during their last time in the shop, and can tell me exactly what they plan to do the next. We might simplistically explain this away as a love for woodworking, but it is more than that.

There are two unalterable conditions that contribute to the amount of productive work a person does and how happy they are doing it:
  1. The person must have a degree of "self-direction." In business, employees must do what the company needs, but if what the company needs can be structured to provide as much "self-direction" as possible, the employee will be happier, more energized, and more productive.
  2. A person must genuinely enjoy what they do. Evidence of this can be seen in people that can tell you exactly what they did all day and what they accomplished. People who fumble to explain what they accomplished during the day don't love their job… at all.

Whether we woodworkers are accountants or cab drivers, doctors or librarians, cooks or coaches, soldiers or scientists in "real" life, woodworking energizes and excites us. Our woodshop is a place where we can be immensely productive and fully self-directed. So now you know why you are so happy in your workshop. How can you transfer that to your real job or how can you get others to feel that joy in their jobs? I have absolutely no idea. Wish I did… I would be a very wealthy consultant!

(Page 2 of 3)
Previous Page   1   2  3   Next Page  

Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

Return to the Wood News Online front page

Click the images below to visit some of our most popular tool departments

Wood Turning 

Highland Woodworking
1045 N. Highland Ave. NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30306
Tel. 800-241-6748

Email us at email@highlandwoodworking.com
Visit us on the web at www.highlandwoodworking.com

Copyright © 2017 Highland Hardware, Inc.

Errors regarding pricing and specifications are subject to correction.
SOME SALE QUANTITIES MAY SELL OUT and become unavailable at the advertised price.