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Two Modes of Effective Work

According to The Origins of Herman Miller’s Modes of Work there’s two classes of work available to us. I believe these still apply even as most of us work in distributed teams these days. They may seem obvious:

  1. Alone
    • Chat
    • Converse
    • Co-Create
    • Divide & Conquer
    • Huddle
    • Show & Tell
    • Warm Up, Cool Down
  2. Together
    • Process & Respond
    • Contemplate
    • Create

I think we’re really getting somewhere here. Reading that list made me very nostalgic for in-office coffee breaks at the water cooler 🙁 Going beyond these classes of work, we can go deeper — there’s really only two modes of work:

  • Just Get it Done (JGID)
  • Planned Work

The Just Get it Done mode is tackling tasks that are probably collated in a list. Maybe you have a 20 clients you need to email before the end of the day. Maybe there’s a submission deadline you need to hit. Or maybe, it’s just shit that needs to get done today or this week. These tasks are often rewarding in the short term, because they unblock you field of vision. I find that clearing of these sorts of tasks early in the day unblock me later in the afternoon to contemplate longtail projects. Or heck, it clears my head for office hours too. If you find yourself with a mountain of unfinished JGID tasks every day, congratulations. You’ve just discovered that your organization is suffering a staffing or project management problem. Big yikes.

The Planned Work mode is less rewarding in the short-term. But, is vastly more rewarding in the long-term. If you’ve ever wrapped a 6-month long project or released a new product — you know exactly what I’m talking about. This mode of work often produces JGID tasks. That’s the point. You take a big idea, and chunk it. Making a wholly impossible task, possible via piecemeal.