The Reactionary Life: At Work

Last week I wrote about my realization that I have been living a reactionary life at home, at work, and at church in a way that has prevented me from enjoying life, enjoying relationships, and pursuing excellence in all areas of my life. I received some good feedback and some questions, so I thought I would elaborate on each of those areas as I seek to be proactive in the coming year.

When it comes to reactionary work, I’ve been in situations and seen plenty of people in situations where the inbox never gets empty, the initiatives and projects they wish would be completed get relegated to the background for the immediate need, and their schedule is guided by the immediate need instead of by the goals of job.

So the question I continue to ask myself is how do I move from reactive to proactive and encourage others to do the same?

Love Your Work

The NY Times recently had a series of articles remembering people who had died and celebrating their life. One of them was Richard Geller, a teacher at Stuyvesant High here in NYC. He taught math for 43 years and died of lung cancer. His students had him speak at their graduation before he died. He challenged them about their future career:

Assignment No. 2: Find a career that you enjoy as much as I enjoy teaching math. You will be much happier with your life if you enjoy your job. And if your parents don’t like what you choose, that is their problem, not yours. When they see you happy in your life and career, they will be happy for you, too.

If you hate your job, just endure it, or wish you were doing something else, you’ll never be proactive at work. You will do just enough to get by, be bored due to the lack of challenge, and won’t think about how you can use your career or time at work for the benefit of others. If you hate your job, go find a new one and discover the work that makes you feel alive.

Every job has a loveable facet that must be cultivated in order for you to proactive and seek to use your work for the good of your co-workers and others.

Right now, I’m lucky. I love my job. I didn’t love my first job where I worked for the state government, was bored, told to pace myself to not finish quickly and not given enough work. It was miserable. I initially thought it was engineering, but it was really the company. I later committed to enjoying the parts of engineering that matched my skills, pursuing them wholeheartedly through sharing my goals with my boss and seeking out more knowledge over it.

The difference between hating and loving your job determines whether you will experience joy in work like you were made to experience. When you begin to even try to love your work it sparks a desire to make your office, your employer, and your clients be as successful as possible. This becomes the motivation for moving from reactive to proactive.

Cultivate Fruitful Work Rhythms
We all desire to be fruitful at work, to produce and accomplish great things, but much of that production is contingent on how we approach work. Are you exhausted and don’t want to be in the office or are you looking forward to the task ahead?

I’ve discovered there are certain things I do that greatly motivate me, refresh me, and enable me to work well. As a Christian, my fruitful work is the product of cultivating a rhythm of rest and work. In the creation account, God makes man on the 6th day, Sabbath rest is on the 7th and work starts the 8th. Rest leads to work. This is counter to the American work-for-the-weekend mindset, it states that we were created to do great work and rest provides the refreshing time to enable us to re-engage our work to be fruitful.

I’ve seen this to be true in my life not just in taking time off on my weekends, but also in my everyday. As a Pastor, my schedule is Sun-Thurs, but I have a household to care for which usually takes another day of work. Our family has designated one day a week where we don’t work, we don’t do homework, we don’t prepare for ministry, and we participate in activities that will be refreshing. This conviction has led to more work the other days of the week, but working more to enable a truly restful day is worth it. But rest doesn’t mean we do nothing, we feel refreshed by enjoying our city as a family, spending time reading, and occasionally watching movies.

In the everyday, my day starts off with scripture and a long walk to work, but long walks have always been refreshing for me providing time to think, pray, and then I get to work to read scripture, journal or type out my thoughts. This is what refreshes me to be ready to work well. For others it could look totally different.

I mean, my mornings involve Dr. Pepper, but yours could involve coffee.

Projects, Content, Meeting, and Email Time

Another change I have made is scheduling out my week. I’ve blocked off designated times for meetings, for working on projects, for reading books and online content and for email.

If I don’t do this, I end up booking so many meetings that I’m drained or trying to empty my Google Reader or email perpetually and put the projects aside for another time. This is part of me learning how I work best. I’ve learned that I have enjoyed reading blogs and books to get my mind thinking and brainstorming about new ideas.

At times this has turned into collaboration with others. Collaboration is different than meetings for me in that I want to discuss and dream about ideas rather than the details. I usually leave times of collaboration ready to work on my projects with more diligence and focus.

Email is usually the most challenging, since you can only put off some emails for so long before it is incredibly rude. But setting aside time daily and larger times weekly to crank out emails has given me a lot more freedom to stop stressing about the number in the parenthesis.

These are the things I’ve discovered change me from being reactive to proactive as I have approached work over the years. Obviously there is so much more that can and is done, so if you have an approach that is helpful to you, please leave it in the comments. My hope is that this sparks ideas for you as I know the frustrations of work when approaching reactively.

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