03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Task Of Defining Our Work

More and more these days I find that among people in my seminars the importance of defining our work is a topic that truly resonates. The challenge many of us face is to not only track, but accurately label all of our projects, and hang on to those "stakes in the ground" while the rest of the world seems to want to blow us away from them like we're in a hurricane.

How many of you don't have time to do your work, because you have so much work to do??!!

How many of you, in your jobs, are only doing what you were hired to do? (I never get one affirmative response in any group I query!)

I credit Peter Drucker for framing this issue better than anyone, from the macro perspective. He indicates that whereas forty years ago 80% of our work force made its living by making or moving things, that number is now less than 20%. And that "knowledge work" demands a completely different paradigm of focus than we have been trained in as a professional culture. (See Drucker's terrific book Post-Capitalist Society.)

The good news about making or moving something is that when you come to work, un-made and un-moved things make it very easy to know how to spend your day. You do not need "personal organization" other than the work that is obviously and visibly at hand. The bad news is that these days only a small percentage of us get to work and know exactly what to do. The rest of us have to make it up! And after we courageously apply our prodigious creativity to making up an agenda, very few (if any) of the people we interact with seem to be supporting our agenda.

So, it becomes critical for each of us to maintain a complete and accurately defined list of Projects, and to ensure that we review these at least weekly with real sincerity of focus, creating and capturing all the, "Oh yeah, that reminds me, I need to . . . " kind of next actions that need to happen to make our self-defined "work" happen.

That list needs to include all the professional and personal projects about which you would like -- ideally -- for something to be happening during the course of an operational week. For example:

- Research new digital camera

- Finalize budget

- Refinance house

- Reorganize office

In our culture, we were only trained and equipped to show up and deal with the work at hand. We now have to train and equip ourselves, create our own targets and goal-lines, and tie safety ropes onto those outcomes to keep steady in our course against the winds of the world.