Optimize Your Life

Episode #28: Work Variety

Show Notes:

Hello friends and welcome back to another episode of Optimize Your Life. Today we’re going to talk about work variety. Now you might be wondering — what exactly do I mean by this and what I want to share with you is it’s really comprised of two things. One is task variety which means that the tasks that you engage in at work are varied. You engage in a variety of different tasks and that is really important for the total experience that you’re going to have, and we’ll talk about why in a minute. And the other is skill variety. So if you think about this as an equation, work variety is comprised of tasks variety plus skill variety. 

So what do I mean? I just defined task variety. What do I mean by skill variety? it’s that you are utilizing and tapping into a variety of different skills that you have. Now with any job that you do there are numerous skills that you utilize and if you are doing a job that really only requires one skill, then you’re probably not in a well-fitting job. This is important to consider.

Now when we talk about work variety, why is this really important? Well one of the things I can share with you is that when you don’t have task variety you are more likely to feel bored. When you do have task variety you have more job satisfaction. I think the same can be said about skill variety and in most jobs, as I mentioned, you are expected to perform a wide range of duties. And so if you are really skilled in all of those things, you are more likely to then tap into a variety of tasks as well and overall you’re going to feel like this job is allowing you to express your skills, your talents, your gifts, and you’ll feel more fulfilled. 

Think about the types of jobs you used to do, maybe when you were a teenager in high school. It probably didn’t require a whole bunch of your skills, right? The kinds of things that we tend to do when we are super young other than maybe babysitting is we’ll work at fast-food joints or we’ll do some sort of menial task, right? And usually that requires very few skills and it really doesn’t tap into our potential. It doesn’t really require any creativity. So think about what you’re doing now instead and are you satisfied at work? And if not, I want you to consider, “Is part of the reason that I’m not satisfied because I don’t have a variety of things that I do or is the work that I’m doing not really tapping into all of my gifts, talents, and skills?”

Now some of the ways in which we sometimes try to tackle task variety is we’ll try to multitask. And I want to just first clear this myth up because multitasking is definitely not the same thing. What multitasking means is that you’re working on a number of different tasks at the same time but they may not be very varied and either way, it’s just not a very optimal way to work because of what we know about the mind. In your mind you can really only be optimal and efficient if you work on one thing at a time. So that’s a whole separate conversation about why multitasking is never a good idea, especially when the task requires some of your focus and concentration. 

We multitask well when the thing that we do requires very little skill. Take for instance when you’re driving your car. You can drive your car and have a conversation or drive your car while you’re listening to the radio because driving your car doesn’t usually require a lot of attention. You can kind of do this in your sleep almost, right? Clearly we don’t want you driving with your eyes closed or anything like that but you get the gist. This is something that is easy for you that you don’t really have to think about. You’re practically on autopilot. 

But notice what happens when you’re looking for parking or when you’re looking for an address or when you’re driving somewhere that’s off the highway in a brand new area and you need to find where it is you need to go. What happens, at least what I do is I tell everyone to stop talking to me. I turn off the radio and I have to hyper-focus. So I’m shifting gears here from really kind of being able to “multitask” to really needing to focus in just on the one task because it requires so much of me. 

So you could say that while I’m driving and listening to the radio, I’m “multitasking” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this form of being in my car is varied, right? It’s not tapping into a whole bunch of my skills and it’s not really challenging which is another thing to consider when you’re thinking about how satisfied you are with your work. The reason why it’s important for us to tap into all of these different skills is because then we really feel fulfilled when we know that we’re contributing. When does task is so easy, it’s not really challenging to you, it’s not really tapping into your potential or your skill-set, then you’re going to feel like, “yeah it’s easy” but it’s really not very challenging. It’s not exciting and it’s kind of like when I have to go drop off the kids. I’m not like “Woo! I get to go drive the car” because driving the car is not hard, it’s not challenging and there’s nothing really exciting about it. And we do it all the time so there’s nothing novel about it either. But it’s when I get to do something that maybe is more challenging or more exciting or novel that I get excited, that I get jazzed up, right? And it’s the same thing when you think about your work. It doesn’t mean that your tasks always have to be novel. It doesn’t mean that you have to like everything that you do, but it should be varied to give you that sense that you are really utilizing all of yourself.

When you enter the world of design, the terms used are Skill Variety, which again is the number of skills that you need to complete the job, and Task Identity, which refers to how much you feel like you own the outcome of the job after completing a task. 

I’ll give you an example of task variety from my own experience. So when I was in college, I got a job at a country club and I had a few different tasks that I did. There were certain days when I worked at the restaurant as a server and I would serve the members their lunch. Other days I was driving those golf carts out on the golf course and selling snacks and drinks to all the people that we’re playing golf. Now these are very different kinds of tasks and it’s important at least for some people to have those kinds of changes. It’s not so monotonous. It’s not like every single day is exactly the same. That’s not always true but we’ll see in other situations it’s probably more so the case. In this case, as you’ll see, it’s really not very important because neither one of those positions were really tapping into my skillset.When it came to being a server, it was really just taking an order and delivering food. It wasn’t really getting into my personality. It wasn’t typing into my intelligence in any way. I didn’t really have to think very much or be creative. And the same thing was driving a golf course. I was just be a pressing go with a the pedal and stopping whenever people flagged me down and selling them their snacks and a drinks, taking their money. I mean these are really fundamental things that probably most people could do. So wasn’t really tapping into my skills. 

So as you can see in order for you to really be satisfied, you kind of need a combination most of the time. I would say probably still variety is more important than task variety. But  for some people task variety is important and I’m actually one of those people and I’m going to share with you how this is true for me.

So when I was going to university and I had to decide on a major, I really wanted to find a career that would give me that variety because that’s something that I actually am excited about. And I majored in Psychology and one of the things that actually attracted me to this area was the fact that it is so diverse, that I knew that when I came out the other side I would be able to work in a number of different settings. I could work in hospitals. I could work in clinics. I could work at a foster care agency. I could be a professor at a university. I could do research or I could go into private practice. And there are probably other things that I could do with my degree that I didn’t even consider but just the fact that it was so diverse was actually attractive to me. 

And I’d actually done a number of those roles, if you really want to know the truth. I have worked in in hospitals and clinics and foster care agencies. I never really wanted to be a professor or researcher but I did go into private practice and I’ve worked for nonprofits. So really, I’ve been around the block. I’ve done my fair share of trying out these different various placements and that’s actually good, especially when you’re starting out because you’re trying to figure out what is the right fit for you. So yes, you have your training and your degree but then you can put it to use in different areas and so that’s another way that you can think about this whole idea of task variety.

Now in those different placements, I also tapped into my skill at different levels. So not only was I doing clinical work but I was also doing assessments. So I would have a patient come in and I would assess to see whether they’re depressed or suicidal, if they are psychotic, or they have anxiety — those types of things. I would actually sit down and actually measure what’s going on with this person in terms of their personality and their clinical presentation. 

I did some research, more as a student than otherwise, for my dissertation. So I was able to learn all about how to do research and that is something that I’ve done since graduating more informally. So when I’m writing an article or even preparing for a podcast episode like this I will do some research to find out exactly what’s happening but usually when I talk about doing research it’s really different than this. I’m not really going on the internet and trying to see what other people have written which is maybe more the kind of preparation that I do for this kind of podcast. But when I was doing research in school, it was really about original research which is where I would propose a project, I’d have a hypothesis, I would collect data, and I would analyze it to see the results, right? So I decided not to do this after graduation but that’s another thing, another example of task variety or skill variety rather. 

And finally there’s writing. So when you do research obviously you have to write up your results. What I did after graduation and more recently is I actually took a lot of the research that I conducted on what other people have written and looking at the experiences that my clients were sharing with me and I wrote my own book and that’s the book that you’ve probably heard me talk about here, The 7E Solution to Burnout. So I have done my share of writing both in terms of the book, in terms of blog articles and things of that nature. Those are all examples of utilizing my skills in a variety of different ways. 

So you can say that in my career so far in the way that I’ve designed it I’ve published a book, I worked one-on-one with therapy and coaching clients, I’ve conducted workshops, spoke at conferences, I’ve launched programs for groups and created online courses. All of this has made my experience as a therapist and now as a coach really fun and satisfying because I get to push the boundaries. I get to explore different avenues. And if you are in your job, I guarantee you, even if you are not a business owner, even if you are working for someone else that there are probably more things that you can do to make your job exciting, to make it relevant, to make it fulfilling for yourself. So I challenge you to really search your brain for what would provide value to your employer that you can do right now that would make going to work that much more fun and satisfying. 

I’d love to hear from you so leave me a comment if this was helpful and if you were able to come up with some ideas that maybe you want to share with others. In the meantime I hope you have a wonderful week and I’ll talk to you very soon.

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