Book Excerpt: The Three Kinds of Work

Even though work sometimes feels like one massive, melded blend of tasks, conversations, and meetings, it can be parsed into three different forms: Mapping, Making, and Meshing. 
To truly unleash your full capability, and to ultimately find your sweet spot of contribution, you must engage in all three.
Mapping is fairly straightforward. It’s planning, plotting your objectives, and setting priorities. It’s the “work before the work” that helps you ensure you’re spending your focus, time, and energy in the right places. You often map instinctually, as when you make a list of tasks to accomplish, or block off time on the calendar. Sometimes mapping is also done in collaboration with others, such as in strategy meetings or planning sessions.
However, not all the mapping you need to do is instinctual and obvious. It’s not all about critical paths and Gantt charts. Some mapping deals with less tangible aspects of work, such as the values that drive you or your sense of why you do what you do. When you fail to account for these in your mapping, it’s easy to lose your focus and quickly get off course. You can wind up making really great progress in the wrong direction.
Making is actually doing the work. It’s creating value of any kind, including executing tasks, making sales calls, designing, writing, engaging with your direct reports, and tackling your objectives. Making is what typically comes to mind when you think of work, because it is what you’re doing when you deliver the most tangible value. 
You can strategize all you want, but in the end, you have to do something about your plans. While it’s often difficult to measure in the moment how effectively you plan or strategize (Mapping), you can count at the end of the day how many tasks you checked off a list, how many words you wrote, or how many calls you made. 
As a result, it’s easy to gravitate toward Making at the expense of the other two kinds of work because you’re able to point at something and say “I did that!” As mentioned above, this can result in making quick, but ultimately useless, progress.
The final kind of work, Meshing, is often overlooked because it is rarely tied directly to results. You don’t get paid for it, and it doesn’t show up on anyone’s organizational priority matrix. However, it’s often the most important determinant of long-term success and getting the best work out of yourself and your team. 
Meshing involves all of the “work between the work” that actually makes you effective. It’s composed of activities that stretch and grow you, such as acquiring and developing new skills, reinforcing or enhancing your knowledge, cultivating your curiosity, or generating a better understanding of the context for your work. 
It’s also composed of critical disciplines such as paying attention to the adjacent spaces in your industry and engaging in activities that may not have an immediate payoff, but position you to be more effective in the coming days.
In the hustle of daily life, it’s easy to overlook Meshing and focus mostly on Mapping and Making, largely because they provide a more immediate payoff. However, you ignore Meshing at your peril, because your diligence about engaging in behaviour that has a longer-arc payoff often correlates directly with your long-term success. Continued, disciplined growth prevents stasis.
Mapping + Making + Meshing
You need to be purposeful about engaging in all three types of work. This won’t happen by default, only by design. All of us have a tendency to gravitate toward one of the three kinds of work at the expense of the others, and while the negative effects of neglect may not be evident in the short term, they can be disastrous in the long term. 
For example, some people love to plan, but have a difficult time mustering the will to actually do the work. Others love to dive into the work, but fail to regularly step back to define the context and objectives in a way that keeps them on course. Still others are great at planning and executing, but they aren’t taking time to expand their knowledge and skills and thus become less effective over time. 
Depending on how disciplined you are about engaging in the three types of work, there are four profiles you can fall into: Developer, Driver, Drifter, Dreamer.
  • Mapping + Making + Meshing = Developer
  • Mapping + Making – Meshing = Driver
  • Making + Meshing – Mapping = Drifter
  • Meshing + Mapping – Making = Dreamer
(Source: Die Empty by Todd Henry)

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