The #1 Reason Your Work Is Never Finished

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Ever feel like your work is never finished?

You can’t quite stop working at home. Most mornings, you wake up feeling like you’re just stepping back onto the treadmill that never stops.

On rare occasions, you think you’re done (at least for now). But then you head out for dinner or take a walk only to start thinking about all the different ways you could have tackled the situation at work. Suddenly you’re not ‘off’ anymore.

Even on vacation, you don’t really feel free. Work is on your mind, even when you’re a thousand miles away from it.

More and more leaders feel like their work is never done.

The challenge, of course, is the more you feel like your work is never finished, the more you feel closer to being finished.

Why is that?

Well, there are several factors at work.

This is a far greater problem for people today than it ever was for our parents or grandparents. Things have changed radically since the 1960s and even more so within the past 20 years.

Some of the factors at work are beyond your control: To fight them is like trying to defy gravity.

But there’s one thing you can change, and it’s the #1 reason your work is never done.

First, however, we need to talk about the cultural factors outside of your control.

The more you feel like your work is never finished, the more you feel closer to being finished. Click To Tweet

#1: Flex Hours Often Mean You Work More, Not Less

Flex hours were supposed to liberate people from the tyranny of the 9 to 5 workday. And to some extent, they did.

A defined start and finish time left a lot of office workers feeling like they lived in an arbitrary prison. After all, why should a responsible employee have to sit behind a desk when they could be at their child’s school play and get their work done earlier or later?

It all makes perfect sense.

Except that when there’s no clean start and finish to work, there’s no clear start or clean finish to work either. Everything gets lost in the messy middle of “Did I really do enough?”

There’s definitely a group of people who take advantage of flex hours to cheat their employers.

But I suspect an even larger group of responsible people end up doing more because of a lack of clear boundaries.

Flexible hours really mean most people just work more hours.

Flexible hours really mean most people just work more hours. Click To Tweet

#2: Most Work Is No Longer Tangible

Suppose you work at an auto plant or even a coffee shop. In that case, there’s a tangibility to work that almost no one in an office, firm, or church experiences.

You start your shift and produce X number of SUV steering wheels or Frappuccinos, and you’re done. Five hours after your shift, nobody’s thinking, “I wonder if I should be installing more steering wheels (or making more iced lattes) right now.”

And, for most of human history, this is how people lived. People farmed their land or made stuff they needed to survive (like clothes and shelter). After an “honest day’s work,” you could point to what you accomplished for that day. Inputs and outputs were clearly defined.

We’re wired for tangible work.

But we don’t really live in that world anymore.

The challenge with knowledge workers (pretty much everyone who works, in an office, church, and a growing number of entrepreneurs) is that nobody’s quite sure how to measure what we do, including us.

Sure, you can measure bank balances, attendance, customer acquisition, growth rates, and the like. But how do you really measure what you do in a day?

It’s harder to find a sense of accomplishment when you meet with someone for an hour, and there’s no defined outcome.

Maybe you should have a dozen more meetings like that. Or maybe none. Who knows?

If you’re a preacher or writer like me, who knows whether your day’s work accomplishes anything? Sure, over the long haul, you’ll see results. Still, every sermon could be ‘better,’ and every article could be more polished or have stronger ideas.

It’s just so intangible.

The intangibility of work creates tangible angst in many leaders.

More than a few people compensate by looking for other wins in their lives that are measurable. That’s why I love cutting my lawn and cleaning my car. There’s a before and after. The results are clear.

At work, they’re never that clear.

As a result, you feel like you always have more to do.

The intangibility of work creates tangible angst in many leaders. Click To Tweet

#3: The Mission is Endless

The insurmountable size of the mission facing us adds to the sense of never being done.

In church, there are always more people to reach. Even if your church is the largest in town, most of your town doesn’t attend church. The majority of those people likely don’t have a growing relationship with Christ.

In business, there are always more opportunities. Even if your company is on a 30% growth curve, somebody down the road is experiencing 10x growth. And there are 7 billion people on the planet anyway to reach anyway, right?

A lot of us have a never-ending mission. There’s just always more.

The problem with having ‘more’ as a standard is that more has no endpoint.

You never feel done because, well, you aren’t.
And never will be.

The problem with having 'more' as a standard is that more has no endpoint. Click To Tweet

#4: Your work lives in your pocket

Previous generations have lived with intangible work and an endless mission. Arguably they handled it better than we’re handling it.

Why? Well, previous generations never carried smartphones around everywhere they went.

Your challenge is your work lives in your pocket. You carry it with you wherever you go. Even on vacation.

As a result, you feel like your work never finishes.

When you check the time or the weather forecast, you can’t help but notice the eighteen unread emails that have piled up in the last hour.

Co-workers text you at dinner. Work friends ping you while you’re watching the game. Your supervisors email you after hours. The Slack notifications never stop.

Add a laptop into the mix, and you’re never off when you’re off.

The line between work and home isn’t just blurred, it’s gone.

And the pandemic further exacerbated this situation when most of us were required (or choose) to work from home.

The line between work and home isn't just blurred, it's gone. Click To Tweet

The #1 Reason You Feel Like Your Work Is Never Finished

All of the reasons listed above are huge factors in how we feel daily and why the struggle is real.

But they aren’t the key reason you feel like you’re never done.

You know what is?

It’s this: You feel like your work is never finished because you don’t have a strategy.

What you need is a strategy to figure out how to handle the pressures of flex hours, intangible work, an endless mission, and your constantly buzzing phone.

After all, none of us can go back to 1974 when no one had a phone and office hours were office hours. And probably many of us won’t work at an auto plant or in retail where there are clear lines.

As a result, self-leadership has become a critical leadership trait, but most of us have no idea how to lead ourselves.

If someone asked you right now What’s your strategy for handling the constant pressure of work, what would your answer be?

Most leaders I know would have no answer.

Frankly, I didn’t either until ten years ago.

Self-leadership is a critical leadership trait, but most of us have no idea how to lead ourselves. Click To Tweet

The Fastest Path To A More Effective You in 2022 Is…

If you’re honest with yourself, how did your time management turn out in 2021?  Looking back, would you say, “Man, I was so on top of stuff. I’ve got no issues heading into 2022?”

Or are you thinking, “I need to do better with time?”

Here’s one of the challenges with time management.

Nobody’s making any more time. Everybody gets 24 equal hours in a day.

The most productive person you know gets the same amount of time you do. So why are they more effective than you?

To answer help you answer this question, I wrote a book, At Your Best, that’ll equip with the framework and tools you need to develop a strategy that’ll actually help you take back your time.

Can't find the time to get it all done? Become a high-impact leader without burning out (or sacrificing yourself).

Without a new strategy and approach, it's easy to continue to:

  • Sacrifice family on the altar of work
  • Overcommit and underdeliver
  • Have no time for what you actually want to do
  • Struggle to get time off to refuel and relax

Worst of all, other people—other tasks, jobs, and projects—will continue to hijack your life.

It’s time to change that by implementing a strategy that works.

At Your Best is a proven strategy to get your time, energy, and priorities working in your favor. It's my step-by-step online course that will help you overcome stress, find a sustainable pace without losing impact, and be far more productive at work.

50,000+ leaders have used the At Your Best strategy to escape the stress spiral and finally do what they want to do—grow their organizations, advance their careers, launch new ventures, be far more present at home, and take regular time off.

Wow! I didn’t realize I was in desperate need of this message and system in my life and business. 

This message so profoundly impacted us, that we named our annual company theme, “At Our Best,” using Carey’s system and resources to strengthen our culture and make health a priority this year.”

Sean CannellFounder and CEO, Think Media

Whatever you choose to do with it is up to you. Join today for instant access.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.