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The at-work tax: what's your and how much do you pay?

A few weeks ago, after a colleague started complaining to me about some slides he had to make that would shortly be buried in the appendix of a presentation his boss' boss was going to possibly give, I ended up saying "Eh, just pay the tax as efficiently as you can and move on."

I've used this analogy often over the time I've had to earn a living, and ended up explaining it yet again a few days ago.
  • Most of us (hopefully) like our jobs. We're excited by the things we're trying to accomplish or some of the things we do day-to-day to accomplish them or (if you're really lucky) both.
  • However there will always be things you need to do that you don't necessarily enjoy and or even think necessary. This is in effect a at-work tax on you: on your time, energy, and general bucket of happiness.
  • As a UChicago grad student, I'm trained to be deeply suspicious of taxes and deadweight losses. But here, as is often the case with taxes, some are necessary and often vital.
  • The at-work tax can be different things to different people. In my mind, the tax typically includes things like status reports, pretty presentations where no new insight has been gleaned, projects that need to get done but no one is excited about. etc. etc.
  • Taxes aren't always a bad thing though; I know status reports and meeting notes are often really critical in a large company, many projects aren't great or enjoyable but are still necessary.

So what's my point with this?
  • Clearly delineate what is work, and what is tax: too many people mix the two or enjoying paying the tax too much and wonder why they didn't do anything substantial : i.e. you know the type - those that spend most of their time doing presos and spend an entire day polishing a slide. It's really easy to get sucked down that route, so...
  • Understand why you're paying the tax (to impress someone or to get something done, and how important is it?), because this will determine the next point.
  • Try to pay the taxes efficiently - once you've decided something is tax do only what's absolutely necessary to pay it, unless...
  •'re trying to have fun paying taxes (to me this typically means putting easter eggs in status reports or trying some new visual design trick I've wanted to trying into a preso or showing YT clips at the start of a meeting I was lukewarm about.)
The clarity of what's real and what's tax, and adjusting your approach to these two different things, are a great heuristic for figuring out how to maximize your output and your enjoyment at work.


Isaac said…
You make it sound like spending all day polishing a slide is a bad thing ;-)
Satyajeet said…
No comment. :)
Manoj said…
Can't a choice few pay all the taxes for rest of us lucky ones? :D

Well said though... :)

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