Why Work Doesn’t Look Like Work

If you are a knowledge worker, your biggest job is thinking. But if all day all night you are busy being busy, ‘thinking’ takes a backseat, and you end up doing a lot of things without getting anything done. You don’t waste the hours, but you waste the years.

When was the last time you took the time to ponder upon something for an entire day, or perhaps an entire week? If you are like most people, your days are spent in standup meetings, urgent calls, and brainstorming sessions. The grind is same for both founders and employees.

If your work involves strategy, analysis, creativity, management, non-structured decision-making, your primary job is to think. Unlike jobs that involve doing repetitive tasks, this job requires quiet time to think through problems.

But we’re stuck in an old world where we are expected be available and responsive throughout the day. It doesn’t matter whether you are a founder or an employee, availability in office is replaced by the “Available” status on Slack. “I am available”—to be pinged, disturbed, and distracted.

We’re set on the theme that a typical work day should be 8–10 uninterrupted hours seated at your desk—be it at home or at office. But thinking doesn’t happen at work. Thinking happens when you are wandering around being curious. Therefore people with thinking jobs are more productive taking evening strolls beside a lake than attending boardroom meetings.

To get good ideas, you need to give yourself the opportunity to stumble upon ideas. This can only happen when you are chilling on your own, free from worries or distractions. When you are in the shower, on a walk, on or while you are cooking. Not when you are hyperreactive, clocking 100% responsiveness at work.

This is the reason why businesses fail. Founders prioritise moving faster at the expense of thinking better. When you are executing without thinking, you are copying, and not innovating. Is it surprising that most businesses end up either a copycat or broken?

A society is judged by how it treats the less fortunate. A company is judged by how it treats the thinkers. If you don’t care where your colleagues are—whether they are working, or sleeping, or doing yoga, or dropping off their kids to school, or playing tennis, you work in an environment built on trust—that fosters stumbling upon good ideas serendipitously.

If you expect your friends and colleagues to remain constantly online, you are part of an ASAP culture where a lot of things happen, but nothing gets done. All businesses that prioritise visibility, availability, and responsiveness as proxies for diligence, have an ASAP culture.

By now it’s fairly obvious that ASAP cultures are at a great disadvantage. Despite that, it’s the norm. Therefore businesses that prioritise thinking better over moving faster have an unfair advantage over others. They don’t visibly seem to be doing a tonne of things, but they get the most done.

Work shouldn’t look like work. Steve Jobs took evening strolls to have serious conversations. Bill Gates used to take weeks off to spend time alone reading and thinking about where the world is going, and the future of Microsoft. Jack Dorsey famously wanders about to get some thinking done. Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet’s primary job is to sit and read all day so that they have enough time to think. Thinking gets work done. It’s the invisible force that keeps the ball rolling.

Decisions should never be judged by their outcomes. But work is the opposite. Judge people’s work by their outcomes, not by the visibility of the process. Thinking jobs remains hidden from plain sight. It happens inside their heads.

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