When I created Music Teacher’s Helper ten years ago, it was to solve a need that I had in my own life — to better organize my student lesson schedules and payments. I decided to turn it into a “business” for two reasons. One, because other teachers expressed interest in it. And two, to provide for my family without being dependent on an employer.
I’ve learned a lot since then. In building my business, I’ve gone through periods of great excitement, where new ideas for the business permeated every moment of my day, and filled my dreams at night. I’ve also had periods of total burnout, where I dreaded every minute I spent working on it.
If you’ve read my blog for a while, or if you found me through Tim Ferriss’ site, like many have, you’ve probably seen the articles showing the results of tracking each minute of my time for a whole week. It’s true that very little of my time is required to maintain my business, thanks to setting up efficient processes, and hiring others to help run the business. But working less doesn’t necessarily make the left over work more enjoyable, nor does it automatically add meaning to life outside of work. An untended business can also sprout weeds.
But I’m done doing things that don’t matter, even if it’s only for a few hours per week. I’ve never liked work for work’s sake. And I avoid spending time on tasks that aren’t leading where I want to go. But no matter how much or how little I work on my business, or what kind of work I’m doing, there are ways to look at it that can lead to excitement, enjoyment, and growth, and ways to look at it that can lead to burnout, depression, and stagnation. Here are two examples:
A Meaningful Machine
- Some business methodologies encourage you to see employees as cogs in a machine. With detailed enough manuals and specific enough processes, just about anyone more intelligent than a monkey can follow the rules and produce the product the company is hoping for. Every person in the company is replaceable. It’s the machine that must be optimized, so it can bring profits for the owner.
- Another way is to hire intelligent, compassionate, honest, and creative people who see value in the product, and want to contribute part of themselves to making and delivering it as effectively as possible, so everyone will benefit. They see how their work fits into the bigger picture, and enjoy sharing their own experience and ideas with their co-workers, as they work together toward a common vision of making the world a better place. Each person is valued for the unique contribution they bring.
Processes and manuals are helpful for making things flow smoothly, but without the human connection and sense of contribution toward a big-picture vision, work can become meaningless. Besides, if my product isn’t making the world a better place, why the heck am I promoting it? If my product isn’t improving people’s lives or solving a need, why am I even in business? And without a knowledge of how my product is contributing to the bigger picture, how can I hope to sustain it or myself with any degree of purpose, meaning, or happiness?
Work can be dreadful and lifeless when I see it only as busywork necessary to make money. Or it can be meaningful and joyful when I see how it’s helping other people, and when I focus on helping them meet their needs in ways that matter to them. When I connect with the individuals I work with, and the customers I serve, and deepen my understanding of their needs, I become even more enabled to help them, which is rewarding in its own right.
Working in Barcelona
We’ve spent the past month in Barcelona. But we’ve done very little sight seeing, as we feel like we’ve done enough of that over the previous three months. Instead, we’ve been working. A lot. With a blazing fast 71.8Mbps Internet connection, and my own dedicated office space, I’ve been delving into the core of my business, seeking to better understand our customer’s needs, and at times have felt incredibly inspired, with revolutionary ideas pouring into my head almost faster than I could write them down.
I have an increasingly clearer vision of how I want to move the company forward, and am taking steps to make it happen. In addition to a complete rewrite of the software, taking customer’s needs into account first and foremost, I’m also doing some shifting of personnel and responsibilities, and changing how I communicate the values and principles I want Music Teacher’s Helper to be powered by. I’m confident these changes will make a big difference in the lives of our customers and employees, and I’ve been enjoying the creative process tremendously — even to the point where I worked my first 40 hour workweek in over 5 years! I’m excited to see my ideas come to life, and to see how they continue changing, as I stay aware of the needs of those I’m serving, as well as my own needs.
And when my next slump in productivity or motivation comes, I can be inspired by my vision of the future, and the results I’ve seen it bring so far in the lives it’s touched. It’s the positive difference my efforts are making in individual lives that brings meaning to my work. Regardless of how much money I’m making, or how many hours I’m working, I want to find this meaning in all that I do.
13 Sep 2015