Focus On This Podcast

90. Finding Your Agency on Pre-assigned Tasks



Week after week, you find yourself working on projects you dread. You don’t understand why they’re important. You’re not good at them. But if your boss is dictating your to-do list, it’s not as if you have a choice, right?

You have more agency than you think. In this episode, we’ll dive into four strategies you can practice to start doing more work you enjoy and less work you dread. When you do, your company will benefit—and your career will, too. 

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • An insightful tool for identifying the work you love
  • How to leverage your thinking to change your experience
  • An often overlooked reason you might not be enjoying your work
  • When—and how—to approach your boss
  • Giveaways that it’s time to look for work elsewhere

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton. Happy Monday to you both.

Blake: And happy Monday to you, sir. I think I’m British this week. Let’s do it. Let’s roll.

Courtney: Can you please say something first and let us tell you… Let’s grade your accent first before we go any farther.

Blake: I’m going to offend. We have people in England who actually listen to this, and they’re about to unsubscribe so hard when they hear me talk like this, governor.

Courtney: Oh my gosh. We just lost 20 percent of our listeners.

Blake: There they go. Wow! I felt it.

Verbs: He offended the entire UK.

Courtney: Okay. We have a really important episode for you all. Again, this is… Blake, what did we call this on the last episode? What did Nick want us to call this series? I can’t even remember.

Blake: May I Help You. It’s a very polite series.

Verbs: You have to say it just like that, in that tone.

Blake: Get it? Because it’s the month of May, and we’re answering listener questions, questions that folks like you, dear Londoner who just unsubscribed, have asked in our Full Focus Community. So, Verbs, what is the big question we’re answering today?

Verbs: Today we’re going to talk about the question of this, because as you mentioned, it does come up quite a bit in the Full Focus Community: What do I do when I don’t decide my own tasks? Like, I work a job where I do not have the autonomy where I’m setting what my Daily Big 3 look like.

Blake: In other words, I’m so overwhelmed, and it’s someone else’s fault. I’m just kidding. That’s the harsh way to look at it.

Verbs: Basically that. And if I don’t like the work I’ve been assigned, what do I do?

Blake: This is a real thing. When you don’t have autonomy… Maybe you’re not Michael Hyatt and you don’t decide everything in your schedule and you can’t tell everyone no. You report to somebody, and you don’t decide all of these tasks you have to do. How do you set a reduced or a Daily Big 3 when everything seems to be urgent or everything has been asked of you? Worse, what happens if a lot of the stuff that is on your task list is stuff you don’t actually like?

Courtney: If you find yourself there, if you are continuously doing work you don’t want to do, that’s where you end up tired at the end of the day and where you dread going to work, and you certainly hate Mondays. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today. We have some options, if this is where you find yourself, to start loving Mondays again, because that’s what this show is all about.

Verbs: Courtney, Blake, help us understand where we even start with what our options are.

Blake: Where you want to start is understanding where your dread is coming from specifically. Why do you dread doing tasks or what tasks do you not dread? Where do you find your highest impact in your role in whatever job you have? To accomplish that, to give you a diagnostic of that, we have a tool called the Freedom Compass. That sounds great, doesn’t it, Courtney?

Courtney: Yeah. This tool, the Freedom Compass, is incredible. If you are interested in the full-blown version of this, it’s part of our course Free to Focus. Again, Free to Focus and Your Best Year Ever… Those two courses are what we built the Full Focus Planner on. So, if you hear us refer to those as part of this podcast, that’s why. The planner is built off those frameworks. But let me give you a really quick overview of this if you wanted to do this.

The quickest way is to make a list of all of your tasks that you do. Take a week. Take two weeks. Just think everything you do. Like, you go to this meeting. You do this thing. You do expense reports. You have this report you turn in every month. Make a list of all of your tasks. Then I want you to categorize each one as either a Desire Zone… Meaning, you’re both proficient at it and passionate about it.

So, proficient in that it moves your business forward. I could have something in my Desire Zone that has nothing to do with my work. But proficient and passionate at it. On the flip side of that is your Drudgery Zone, and you are neither proficient in it nor passionate about it. There are two other zones, but just to give you a really quick glance at this, it’s going to give you which things are in your Desire Zone and which things are in your Drudgery Zone.

Blake: Right. The reason this is important is because when you feel a sense of dread, it’s because you’re doing things where you either lack proficiency… Meaning, “I’m no good at this, so when I engage with it, it feels meaningless because it doesn’t add a lot of value or it’s not the value I was hired to bring to my job or it just feels like I’m climbing up a slippery hill. I’m not proficient at it.” Or it’s because you lack passion. Meaning, maybe you even are good at it, but you really don’t care. It does not excite you in any way.

On the flip side, when you’re doing something you’re passionate about, four hours can roll by, and you still have energy. It’s like, “Wow. Where did the time go? I just loved engaging with this.” When you’re passionate, those things you’re passionate about you can do with a high level of consistency, which is really important to know, but it’s equally important to know what of those things you have passion for actually, as you said, Courtney, move the needle or drive the results you’re responsible for.

Which of those things did you get hired for because you’re good at doing those things? The more you live in that zone, the more energized you feel, and the more value you bring, the more impact you have at your job. So, it is in your boss’ best interest, it’s in everyone’s best interest, it’s in your best interest to look at the Desire Zone. Anyway, like Courtney said, if you want to go deeper, we have a course. Go ahead, Courtney.

Courtney: Let me give one disclaimer in this, because all of a sudden, I feel like all of our listeners are like… They do the list, they figure out what’s in their Desire Zone, and they’re like, “I’m quitting my job. There’s not enough in my Desire Zone.” That’s not what we want you to do, although if it’s like “I have 0 percent in my Desire Zone,” maybe you do need to do it.

Blake: I’ve done it.

Courtney: The idea is not that you would have 100 percent in your Desire Zone. The idea is that over the course of your career, you are moving a higher and higher and higher percentage into your Desire Zone. We all have things… Even Michael Hyatt has things that are in his Drudgery Zone, but then when he’s aware of it, he can work to move them out of his Drudgery Zone. So, I just want to give that quick disclaimer. Again, we’re giving you this piece of information before we move into these strategies. The question we’re going to be answering is “What do I do when I don’t decide my tasks?”

Verbs: Everybody is going to have to process what that looks like on their own in their current job situation. Today, we are going to look at those four strategies you can use to do more of the work you love and less of that work you hate. The reason for your dread will shape how you find your way going forward. So, what’s the first strategy we should be thinking about to help us move forward?

Blake: The first strategy is sometimes the hardest strategy, but it is a strategy you have total autonomy of in any given moment, and that is your thinking. You need to reframe your thinking, first and foremost. Sometimes it’s not that a task needs to change, but the way you think about it, your perspective on that task, needs to change.

Courtney: A lot of times, if we get stuck on the task or micro-focused on the task rather than the bigger why behind why we’re doing this task, we can lose some of that passion. So, the first thing you can do here is just reframe your thinking to think of why. Why is this important? That really subtle shift can be really empowering. Sometimes, probably a lot of times, perhaps a specific task doesn’t matter to you, but it does matter to your boss. We get asked this question all the time: “If my boss asks me to do a task, do I have to do that task?” Well, yeah. You probably should.

Verbs: Um, yes.

Courtney: Let me give you some really sound advice on this podcast. It’s a good idea…unless you’re doing what we said earlier in the episode and you’re ready to quit your job. Then, yeah, try that.

Verbs: If you’ve already put in your two weeks notice, feel free to not do those tasks.

Courtney: Yeah. Feel free not to. So, if it matters to your boss but it doesn’t matter to you, you could shift to a bigger why by just saying, “Hey, you know what does matter to me? Moving forward in my career. I’m working toward a big promotion” or “I have a goal of getting a raise next year.” That makes a different shift, and then you’re going to say, “Actually, you know what? I do care about this task because my boss cares about this task.”

Blake: In terms of your thinking, I think upgrading your why is really helpful. I also think understanding that the experience of what you don’t want to do is a teacher and a clarity-bringer for what you do want to do in the future… Like you said, move your career forward. If you are struggling with this… “Gosh, there are so many tasks I don’t like to do.” I want you to consider for a second “For how long have I felt this way? Did I feel this way at my job before this? Did I feel this way about my job before that?”

One thing I’ve noticed about people who seem to grow in success, especially quickly, is that they are clear on what they want to do and clear on what they don’t want to do, clear on where they bring the highest value, clear on where their weaknesses are, where they don’t necessarily bring high value. That’s why we introduced this concept with that Freedom Compass idea first. Getting assigned tasks you don’t like to do isn’t the end of the world, because it’s actually giving you an opportunity to bring clarity to “What specifically about this is not a fit for me? What would be a better fit for me?”

The more clear you are on that, even if it’s just in your own journal at the end of the day…it’s like magic…the faster you start to move in that direction. I’ve seen that even in your career in the two years I’ve been here, Courtney. When I got hired at Michael Hyatt & Company, you were in a marketing director role, but you were clear, whether or not you voiced it out loud all the time, on where you wanted to be in the future. I imagine there are some things you did when you were a director that, since advancing, you probably knew, “Oh, here are the things I’m going to start delegating.” Is that accurate?

Courtney: Yeah, absolutely.

Blake: So, I guess that’s the other way that comes to mind to reframe your thinking. “These tasks I don’t love are serving a purpose, either moving my career forward or just adding to my own clarity and, therefore, increasing the speed that I can move forward.” Does that make sense?

Courtney: Yeah, it does. It’s giving you the awareness of how to move a higher percentage into your Desire Zone.

Blake: Exactly.

Courtney: The first strategy was to reframe your thinking about these tasks that you may not have autonomy over. The second strategy is to upgrade your skills. Sometimes there are things we don’t like to do, and it’s not that the task in itself is really in our Drudgery Zone. It’s just that we’re not proficient at it yet. We don’t have the skills, so it feels hard. This strategy is… How do you get better at that so when that task comes to you, you’re like, “I’ve got this, because I have the proficiency needed to be good at it and to enjoy it”?

Blake: Yeah. The better you get at something, the faster you get it done, the better you get it done, and typically, the more you end up enjoying it. Stuff that used to take a full day can take a couple of hours.

Verbs: That’s exactly right. It becomes that task you try to push off until the next day and then the day after that, so now you’ve kind of waited through two days of this friction and struggling in your head of “Oh my gosh. This is coming. At some point I have to do it.” I know, for myself, being one of the new teammates on Michael Hyatt & Company staff a few years ago, we had switched a design software to one I wasn’t necessarily proficient at.

I felt that friction, because I had to design workbooks and layouts using a new software, and it became that thing that was like, “Ugh!” I felt like everything was easier in the other software. I ended up hopping on a Skillshare and taking a course on basic 101 of InDesign, and that helped fill in gaps, and it helped me take a step forward and level up in my design skills using that software.

Then everything was actually easier, and I felt like I had more creativity in the newly upgraded skills I had access to. So, it’s just knowing that that’s what the problem is, identifying that, and saying, “Oh, I don’t like doing this because I feel like I don’t do it well, so let me just say something and then learn how I could upgrade my skills and what I can access to get better in it.”

Courtney: This is so key, because I think, a lot of times, we don’t really have the awareness that this is what the problem is. For me, I always get nervous about speaking or doing any kind of engagement. I dread doing this BusinessAccelerator coaching session with our clients, and it comes up about once a quarter. It’s so funny, because once I’ve done it, I’m like, “Man, that was a blast. I loved it.”

Verbs: And you do great at it. They love you. They love it when you guys come in and do those.

Courtney: Well, thank you. Just every time, it is this thing that I’m like, “Oh gosh. Do I have to do that again?” But as I get more skilled at it and have more confidence, it’s like, I really, really love doing it, but it’s taking upgrading my skills to feel differently about it.

Blake: In general, a good rule of thumb is the more you upgrade your skills, the more options you have in life. Greatness is a great way to go wherever you want to go. Just like the first strategy… You’ll notice a theme with these strategies. When you feel like, “I don’t have any autonomy,” these strategies are all completely under your control. It’s under your control to upgrade your skills. Even if you feel like, “Well, I can’t afford this big expensive course,” start somewhere.

Goodness gracious! There is so much on YouTube, free content…books. We have a dozen if you want to upgrade your skills. The more you engage with that, the more you will notice, “Oh, I have options, because that task takes me less time” or “You know what? When I become great at this, it’s hard to deny it. It’s hard to deny that I bring so much value here.” Steve Martin said it this way: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Courtney: I do think, Verbs, your point of you just asked, you just raised your voice to say, “Hey, I need help in this area…” Sometimes it’s as easy as you’re really struggling with a financial report you get that you have to review, and all you need to do is say, “Hey, person in finance, can you help give me a really good overview of what all of these acronyms mean and help give me some more training on these financial terms?” That’s all it takes. Again, it’s having the self-awareness and being able to hone into what the problem is with the task.

Verbs: That brings us to the third strategy, which is speak up. There is an old saying that “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” Again, when you’re looking at your path forward in your work career, whatever that looks like, or wherever you are right now in your workplace, and wanting to hit more activities and tasks you do love doing that you are passionate about, that you are proficient at… I’ll say this before I let you guys comment on the strategy.

Sometimes it’s just us getting over our own embarrassment that we don’t know how to do something or that imposter syndrome that “I’m here, but I lack these certain skills, so maybe I shouldn’t be here.” But what are the opportunities you have or the communication you can have with your boss or your supervisor, or whoever it may be, so you can make this known, because you know the advantage is you have an opportunity to go to the next level?

Courtney: This is really important, and I have a lot of stories about this. The question for everybody is…Does your boss know you’re doing work you hate? There is a right way to go about this with your boss (we’re going to tell you exactly how to do that) and a wrong way to do it. Just saying, “I don’t want to do this because I hate this…” Don’t do that. All of you listening, you’re too smart to do that anyway.

I have somebody on my team now who is our director of customer experience. She came to me and said, “I really struggle with our webinar support. I think if I reallocated my time and got somebody on my team to support that, I would actually be able to serve our customers better doing live chat, planning for these other things.” She cast a vision for what she wanted to do by not being on webinar support. I was like, “Oh yeah. Obviously. Yeah, do that.”

Basically, she came to me and said, “Hey, there’s a better way. There’s somebody better on my team to do that, and this is how it’s going to benefit you and the company.” I was like, “No brainer. Done. Do it.” As you go and talk to your boss about this, cast it in how it is going to be better for the company. You doing work you love is ultimately going to produce better results, and your boss is going to care about better results.

Blake: Even the best boss in the world, when things are great, I’m sure deep down in their heart they’d put their arm around you and be like, “Oh, I want you to be so happy. I want you to have such a great time,” but really, what drives them is the bottom line. It’s a business’ job not to make sure you’re always happy and doing the work you love. That’s not the business’ job. The business’ job is to create profit by a high value exchange with a market.

So, be familiar with what is driving your own business. Think more like an executive and less like someone who’s a victim to someone’s hard-nosed style of leadership and tasks you don’t like. Become familiar with your… If it’s your immediate boss, what are the key metrics they have to report on? What are the things they’re in meetings about that are stressing them out?

I’m in sales. I love being in sales, because it’s really just about becoming a good listener and understanding and empathizing with what’s driving the other person. That’s what you’re doing. When you’re speaking up, you’re thinking… Just like you gave the example of Natalie. Going, “You know what? I think I have a way to help us get this big result even better than we’re doing it right now. Can I talk to you about some of the ideas I have?” Versus, “I get home, and I feel tired and sad, and this is outside my Big 3, dadgumit!”

Verbs: Watch your French. You’ve already offended the UK.

Blake: Yeah. Sorry. This is a family podcast. I shouldn’t have said that. I apologize.

Courtney: What’s so key about that is even if your boss can’t do something about it immediately, it gives them awareness of it. That’s where when they’re working on hiring or they’re trying to allocate resources… Once they have the awareness of it, that’s so helpful. As a leader, you don’t know what you don’t know, so help your boss out and do it in a way that is a win-win for everybody. Again, if you don’t ask, if you don’t communicate, you’re definitely not going to get it then. So hopefully these tools give you some ways you might go about that.

Blake: The fourth strategy is sometimes you have to make a change. This is something I’ve had to do a few different times. If you find yourself in a job that ultimately is not a good fit for you and it’s also not a good fit for where you want to go, it might be time to look elsewhere. It doesn’t even necessarily need to be with a different company. This could just be a different position. In our own company, we’ve had people change teams, go from finance to training and from marketing to sales and probably a dozen other.

Courtney: Products to coaching.

Blake: Exactly. Sometimes probably the easiest change to make is within people who already know, like, and trust you, which, by the way, goes back to an earlier point. The easiest opportunities to get are the ones you know about before a job posting ever goes up on LinkedIn. It’s kind of like buying a house in Nashville. The best time to buy a house in Nashville is when you’re driving by and it’s just a lot of dirt and they haven’t listed it yet.

So, think about that when you’re deciding whether or not to procrastinate on tasks you don’t like to do, because the more you show up in that stuff, the more likely you’re going to be considered for stuff within your company. But sometimes you have to make a change even outside the company. For me, if I could just share a quick example of this, it wasn’t that I didn’t love what I was currently doing.

It was that, ultimately, I had to want to go where my boss, who was the CEO of the company, wanted to go, and I didn’t really align… As time passed, I realized, “Oh, I actually don’t align with the vision, and I don’t align with the way you want me to do sales.” As I developed that skill set, I was like, “Actually, I have a different value system than you. It’s not about just upgrading skills. We will always have this friction, so I think it might be time to look elsewhere.”

Verbs: I think it’s important to say also that those listening shouldn’t count themselves out of “Hey, it may be necessary to make a change.” One of the indicators is if you’re 100 percent in a Drudgery Zone at your job, you should know you probably have more options than you think that could facilitate this change that needs to be made. But, yeah, prior to me coming to Michael Hyatt & Company and joining this team, I had a decision I had to make based on where I saw myself. I asked myself that question, “Where do you see yourself in the next five years?”

I knew at that point I needed to make a change career-wise, and that’s what started the whole process and journey for me coming to Michael Hyatt & Company. You have to come to the point, “How much do I love the drudgery I’m living in to want to continue it any longer, and what are my options that I can look into to change that?” Change can be scary, and it’s easy to continue with what’s familiar even when we’re unhappy simply because it’s familiar. Some people can just live in that forever, but there’s so much more you can grab ahold of.

Courtney: The important thing here is if, truly, you’re in your Drudgery Zone, if none of these first three strategies yield any results, if you’re just stuck, ultimately, you’re not going to produce good work. You’re not going to get a promotion doing work you’re very unhappy about. People can sense when you’re unhappy. It’s no secret when you don’t love your work, and that’s not going to get you the results you most likely want.

So, I think this is really important. A lot of people love what’s familiar, and making a job change is hard, but the end result is hopefully you get a job where you love doing the work, that has more alignment with your Desire Zone, and then you get the results you want. You get career advancement. You get new opportunities. Those things are really important. You get to choose your Daily Big 3.

Verbs: And you probably have more joy in your life, just loving what you do.

Courtney: Right. Again, getting back to what our company is all about, winning at work and succeeding at life… In that scenario, you are probably not winning at work, and then that impacts the other side of things. You’re probably not succeeding at life when you are failing at work. You probably don’t come home and are the most joyous person to be around. So, again, this is scary. It feels kind of ominous now that we’ve brought this up, but I think it’s something that is important to consider as you weigh these.

Verbs: The good news is you don’t have to feel stuck doing work you hate. You can reframe your thinking, upgrade your skills, speak up, and make a change. Blake, Courtney, any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners as we wrap up today?

Blake: This season, if you feel overwhelmed, kind of going back to “I don’t get to decide my tasks…” Don’t let that be an excuse to not control what you can control. No matter how big a business you may own someday or what you do in life, even when you’re retired, if you retire someday, there’s always going to be a category of stuff you can’t control and stuff you can control.

So, focus on what you can control and recognize that this season you’re in right now is going to give you options to prepare for the next season. You may have more tasks assigned to you than just three for the day. Still go through the exercise of choosing a Big 3, because you can build the skill set of determining “What’s the 20 percent that will drive the 80 percent of results I’m responsible for?”

That’s something you get to control and experiment with and play with right now on somebody else’s dime, to be honest, if you’re an employee. So, take advantage of what you can control now and build those skill sets, learn what you like and what you don’t like. The more you recognize and appreciate those things you can control, the easier it is to navigate that type of season emotionally.

Verbs: Thanks for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet. If you want to help us spread the word, make sure to leave a five-star rating and a written review wherever you listen to this podcast. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

All: Stay focused!