Work is not just something you do for money. Yes, what you do working from seven (in the morning) to eleven in the night counts as work. But that is not the only thing that counts as work.

Broadly defined, work is anything that you need to do at a particular given time. It doesn’t need to necessarily be unpleasant. It doesn’t need to reward you financially or otherwise. It is just something that needs to be done. It is a responsibility. It is something that you have taken ownership of. And by definition, it is unpleasant.

For example, if I have promised my mother that I’ll go out an buy vegetables this evening, that is work. If I have promised a friend that I’ll meet her for tea this evening between six and seven, that is ALSO work. Because now you know what you are going to do between six and seven in the evening today, and you can’t do anything else at that time. That part of your schedule is effectively fixed, and everything else needs to work around that.

The importance of uncertainty in life, I think, is grossly underestimated. When uncertainty is in the hands of others, it is uncertainty for you. It is inherently unpleasant. Suppose you have committted that you will do something “immediately after someone does something else”, then absolute jai. You not only have “work” to do, you are also uncertain as to when you’ll have to do that work. You will need to block a large part of your time for that, and that is inherently NED-causing.

On the other hand, when the uncertainty is in your hands, it results in “flexibility”. Suddenly, when you have a set of things to do that only need to be “collectively done” before a certain time, and the time window in question is large enough, it is not so much of work anymore. Some of the tasks maybe unpleasant, but given that you now have the choice of WHEN to do it, it is so much more pleasant.

A few takeaways from this theory:

  • Occasionally, when I crib to people that life has become boring and predictable, their immediate response is to ask me to take up a new hobby. Typically this is something where I’ll need to interact wit h other people – such as music classes, or dramatics, or whatever. And when you take up something where you need to coordinate with others, it becomes work.

    If you make a mental decision to play cricket between six and seven in the evening every day, soon it’ll become work, irrespective of how exciting it might be. Because it gets entrenched into your (already tight) schedule. If you have the option of playing cricket every evening between six and seven, then it is fine, since it doesn’t impose a schedule

  • The more important thing is about work at work. All management gurus you talk to talk about team dynamics, and team play, and coordination, and focus. What they dont’ realize is that all these increases the quantum of work at work. When the interaction between team members is large, and frequent, then you have several, and frequent, “deliverables”. Which creates more “work” on top of the work that you need to do.

    On the other hand, if it is a loosely held team, that interacts infrequently, and which is structured such that each person has a clearly defined piece of work and inputs and outputs, then each member of the team has so much more flexibility. It is so much less “work”.

  • Coming to focus, when people say you need to show focus and you need to concentrate on the one thing that you are doing, they are once again increasing your “work”. Since you need to focus on that one thing, you have zero flexibility. And that is again more “work”. A better situation is where you are balancing several things at the same time, and that gives you so much more flexibility. And when you have several things on your plate, you can put structured procrastination.
  • So the important thing to remember while designing a team project is to keep things flexible, and reduce frequency of interaction. Give uncerrtainty into the hands of the workers; I’m sure they’ll enjoy it. The amount of work that is there to be done cannot be reduced, but the amount of “work” that needs to be done can, and should be.

Uncertainty, flexibility, option value are all things that are in general underestimated. People assume that we live in a deterministic world. They assume that everyone else needs to do things in a deterministic fashion. And this assumption has a serious negative impact on all our lives. Yes, you might recall that the ongoing financial crisis has been caused to to understimation of uncertainty. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

7 thoughts on “Work”

  1. By that count Leisure is when you have full control of your time, without dependencies. Which is why I prefer ‘trips’ where nothing is planned, as opposed to those to do lists of touristy things to do and touristy places to visit.

  2. The Idea is to avoid all the “have-to”s, I suppose. If there is nothing that you absolutely ‘have-to’ do, then you can do whatever you want.

    You mentioned how hobbies can also become work. My question is – you have been blogging for quite some time now. Has it ever felt like work? When it has been a few days and you have not churned out a post, and you cant think of anything really interesting to write about, do you feel the pressure to set aside time for this and ‘work’ on producing a decent blogpost? And if you have, then since blogging is a totally voluntary activity, why take on the additional work?

    1. good question. so far i’ve tried as well as i can to not make blogging seem like work.

      the situation that you have mentioned here does happen occasionally. i churn out somethign just for the heck of it. and it reflects in the quality. though, of late, i’m trying to put a process where if i feel like i’m not writing as well as i can, i just cancel the post.

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