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Avoiding the Autopilot Syndrome - How to keep challenge alive in your work
By Jody Urquhart   Printer Friendly Version

Are you bored with your job? Has your work become one endless task after another? Many people are so caught up in getting things done they lose sight of the purpose of their work and quickly get bored. In fact, the more secure and stable a job starts to be, the more likely we are to find it unchallenging. What used to be fun and interesting is now boring and monotonous. In The Tragic Sense of Life, Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno writes, "To fall into habit is to begin to cease to be."

Why does it matter how challenging your work is?

1) Usually, tasks performed over and over again become less challenging and are sure to become a bore;
2) challenge and stimulation are the fuel of passion for the job.
3) what is challenging for one person may not be for the next. The only person really qualified to decide what is challenging for you-is you;
4) jobs are not designed specifically to challenge people. They are designed to get the job done. It's up to individuals to create challenge in their work.

Keep Challenge Alive

How do you keep challenge alive in your job? First, decide what challenges you. What are your most important sources of challenge? Think of times when you felt challenged and write them down. Look at your list and answer the following. Do you feel challenged by:

1) seeing the results of your effort;
2) solving problems;
3) implementing other peoples ideas;
4) knowing exactly what is expected and doing it;
5) knowing exactly what will happen in the future;
6) learning new skills and using them;
7) developing new ways of doing things;
8) getting involved with new things;
9) getting others involved in new things.

Challenge and the Bigger Picture

Pay attention to what challenges you and find a way to incorporate more of it. If this requires a job change that is not feasible right away, than make it a part of your long-term vision. In the meantime, find out what it takes to have these elements in your job and decide how you will keep challenged. Write a three-year timeline. Consider involving your manager so she can help you build your timeline.

What do you need to do to get there? As you take these steps you are crystallizing your future vision and making it real. Now deepen your understanding of the big picture. Draw out your own company flow chart to trace where you fit in the organization. Then diagram where your service affects others in the company, including customers and suppliers. The more you understand how your role affects others and the bigger picture, the more naturally motivated and challenged you will be.

Next, ask yourself how you help customers to be more successful. Make this a core part of what you do. Are you really serving others? Can you serve them more? Connect your role to others in the company, customers and the community. This is critical to building more challenging work. It gives you something meaningful to aim for and adds challenge.

Challenge and Meaning

When I speak at conventions about creating meaning in work, I start off by asking a rhetorical question: "What gives something meaning, besides the meaning we give it?" People usually immediately nod their head in recognition. The neat thing about understanding this is it gives license to make anything meaningful, from apparently mundane tasks to the important ones. Meaning is created by each and every one of us, whether we know it or not. Add meaning and challenge to your work by re-assessing what you think and feel about the job. Take stock of what you do in a week. Find ways to challenge yourself more with regular tasks:

1) do them faster;
2) do them with a certain intention in mind. (ie. doing paperwork with the intention of accuracy);
3) talk with others in the office and decide how they add challenge to specific tasks;
4) reframe your perspective. (ie. a realtor isn't just selling houses but helping clients build a better future);
5) act as if every task you do, big or small, is really important. How can you put everything into it?;
6) what are you most passionate about in your job? How can you find ways to do more of this?
7) how can you have a child-like curiosity about your work?

Actively thinking about what is challenging and meaningful to you will inspire purpose in your work. Remember, the only person who can really give your job challenge is you. The challenge is up to you!

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