How work about work gets in the way of real work

Porträtt av medarbetare Molly TalbertMolly Talbert
18 januari 2024
4 min. läsning
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Businesses around the world are changing rapidly. From the rise of remote and flexible work to the ways organizations communicate internally, many aspects of work look different today than they did just a few years ago. At the forefront of so much change is the way we collaborate in the workplace and the new tools and software that help facilitate it.

However, if mismanaged, not all change or collaboration is good.

With the proliferation of communication and collaboration channels also come endless notifications and siloed projects. As workloads grow, information becomes increasingly fragmented and roles and responsibilities are murkier. By trying to become more connected, we’ve created a host of other problems that add up to a bunch of unnecessary and tedious work in order to keep track of what’s going on.

In other words, today’s knowledge workers are inundated by huge volumes of “work about work.”

What is work about work?

You may be wondering, what exactly is “work about work”? Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index, which surveyed over 10,000 knowledge workers from around the world, defined work about work as: the activities that take time away from meaningful work, including communicating about work, searching for information, switching between apps, managing shifting priorities, and chasing the status of work.

What does that actually look like in real life? Work about work is all of the activities you do throughout the day that aren’t the actual skilled work you were hired to do, such as marketing analysis or coding. It’s the mundane, time-consuming stuff that most people just assume comes with the job.

According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index, 60% of a person’s time at work is spent on work about work and not on skilled work. All of those hours add up to huge amounts of lost time. Globally, over the course of a year, the average knowledge worker spends 103 hours in unnecessary meetings, 209 hours on duplicative work, and 352 hours talking about work.

All that time spent on random tasks instead of the skilled work you and your team members were hired to do creates negative ripple effects that are felt throughout the team and organization.

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How work about work hurts productivity

When you think about it, work about work doesn’t just make the days longer and harder. Since it takes away from other important work, the effects can be seen in countless delayed projects, missed deadlines, and needless wheel spinning.

And it spells real trouble for both individuals and organizations.

Looking at the big picture, the Anatomy of Work Index found that the vast majority of knowledge workers (88%) agree that time-sensitive projects and large initiatives have fallen behind or through the cracks due to the volume of tasks they have on their plate.

With so many distractions and different repositories for information, it’s nearly impossible for people to stay on top of the details. Many organizations don’t have the right processes in place to plan, organize, and execute tasks or manage projects.

On an individual level, work about work significantly impacts daily workloads.

The Anatomy of Work Index also found that work about work contributes to unbalanced workloads and long hours at work. The main reasons people stay late? Responding to emails and messages, unexpected meetings, chasing for approvals, and lack of clarity around goals and responsibilities.

In a previous study Asana did, surveying 6,000 knowledge workers across Australia, the U.S., and the U.K., 80% of knowledge workers reported feeling close to burn out. The growth in unbalanced workloads is the primary source of stress for a quarter of employees and, when people feel stressed, 82% say they feel less engaged with their job.

It turns out that more work and collaboration doesn’t necessarily add up to increased productivity and happiness. But this definitely isn’t the end of the story.

Cut the work about work—and get back to business

Work about work is a universal problem, but there are a few ways to combat it.

A lot of discontent and stress stems from a lack of clarity and alignment. The Anatomy of Work Index found that just 43% of respondents are clear on their organization's objectives for the year and only 46% are clear on how their work adds value to the company.

Getting everyone aligned around the big picture is critical for making sure the day-to-day runs smoothly. If people don’t know how their work aligns with high-level goals, it’s hard to stay motivated and produce valuable work.

At Asana, we use the pyramid of clarity to provide structure for everyone in the company. It connects long-term objectives to shorter-term goals, whether it’s a product roadmap or a business plan. At the very top of the pyramid, is the mission, which guides all decisions, followed by strategy, then company wide objectives, departmental objectives, quarterly objectives, individual projects, and tasks. This is the everyday work that fills up most of our time. But, since they all ladder up to the mission, ultimately, everyone knows exactly how they’re contributing to the company’s overall objectives.

Once everyone is aligned and knows how they are connected to strategic initiatives and the company’s mission, you need to rethink technology, using it in a way that helps, rather than hinders, processes.

Today, the average employee uses 10 different apps every day. The more apps they use, the longer they spend feeling distracted or procrastinating. Cutting the clutter and bringing everyone into a single system with a work management platform is essential for many successful, fast-moving companies.

How ClassPass found clarity

At ClassPass, a rapidly growing company that makes it easy to find and book fitness classes, the 25-person marketing team was tasked with running over 200 campaigns per year to increase the company’s brand awareness and user base. But delivering those campaigns at scale—and quickly—wasn’t a straightforward process.

The marketing team used an unwieldy combination of email, chat, and spreadsheets to collaborate on campaigns, resulting in:

  • No source of truth or accountability on due dates

  • A constant need for status updates

  • Information silos and documents got lost in email threads

  • Duplicate work requests could have been consolidated

With the introduction of Asana, they cut out many applications and started collaborating in one place. As a result, they reduced team meetings by 25%, improved team efficiency by 20%, and produced campaigns 30-40% faster.

By aligning to the larger company goals—increase brand awareness and signups—and then using technology efficiently, ClassPass eliminated much of the confusion and work about work that had previously plagued their team.

When employees feel connected to a bigger mission and have tools that empower rather than inundate, people can collaborate more efficiently, take control of their workloads, and make faster decisions. Hopefully, the results will, again, speak for themselves.

How to find focus & flow in a distracted world

Get science-backed tips from experts in psychology and neuroscience. Learn how to minimize distractions and focus on high-priority tasks, so you can flourish at home and at work.

How to find focus & flow in a distracted world

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