9 Ways to Spend More Time Doing the Work You Love


Miachel Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier via LinkedIn

“When did being busy become a measure of success?” asks Michael Bungay Stanier. As the author of “Do More Great Work” (2010 Workman) and founder of Box of Crayons in Toronto, he wants to stop the busywork and start the work that matters.

Because here’s the thing: There’s good work.
And then there’s great work.

This insight first hit Bungay Stanier when he saw a quote from graphic designer Milton Glaser – creator of the I (heart) NY treatment: “Everything we do falls into three basic categories: bad work, good work, and great work.”

Good work is the work that you do well and you can do without blinking.
Great work is doing what’s meaningful to you, has an impact, and stretches you.

So how do you do more work that connects to your core values and creates a source of comfort? Here are a few calls to action – and some of the 15 maps/exercises – described in the 200-page square paperback (download maps and exercises).

1. Uncover your Bad/Good/Great ratio.

Draw a circle. Then divide it into slices for bad, good and great. In each slice, include two projects you’re working on now. The question is: What percentage of your time do you spend on work that engages you and expands your capabilities? Figure out if you’re 20/10/70 or 40/35/25, etc. Then decide what your ideal mix is.

2. Remember your peak moments.

To get a sense of what great work feels like, think back to moments in life where you felt like your best self. Where you reached your personal definition of success. This is different for everyone. It can be an award-winning ad campaign, a solo exhibit, a rite of passage, or anything memorable. The point is to see commonalities between these moments. And to remember what that moment, or that day, felt like. Write down a string of 20 words on what being your best looks and feels like. Then do the same exercise for what being at your best does not look and feel like. Last, put them together:
e.g. Working in groups, not working solo
e.g. Creating options, not following the rules

3. Channel your heroes.

“I’m beginning to see the people I admire as a call to me to be my best, encouraging and pulling me forward to the same standard of whatever it is that they embody,” says Bungay Stanier. To leverage this truth, think of 8 heroes who inspire you. This can be family members, celebrities, brands, or even products (e.g. Dad, Prof. Jefferson, Nelson Mandela, Mini Cooper, or Greenpeace). When you’re not feeling centered, inject the energy they give you into your work.

4. Choose your Next Great Work.

Start by asking yourself what you’re called to – what speaks to you and adds energy to your world. Review Map 5 and select five areas in the outer ring. Is there an obvious project you’ve been waiting to do for some time? What part of the map do you naturally gravitate toward? This is a good place to start, and then refine your next great work into something specific and actionable.



5. Fix what’s broken.

Remember: “Your goal is not to find the perfect place to start. Your goal is to find a place to start,” says Bungay Stanier. Take your five starting points and think of a few ways you could channel them into ideas. To do that, think of how you can fix what’s broken in Map 6 – starting small with your desk, office, or workload and getting bigger with your country or world. And don’t settle for what’s safe. Bestselling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin emphasizes, “You can and should start today. Identify where you’re settling [e.g. no time, no money, no permission, no qualifications, no team] and stop.”



6. Steal some ideas.

Inspiration can come from a title of a novel at the bookstore or a clothes display in a shop window. So if you’re having a hard time thinking of what your Next Great Work will be, take a break. Look around. Let it come to you. Maybe you want to take on a new product or a new niche. Maybe you decide your Next Great Work is upgrading your relationship or leaving your firm.

7. Put reason to your intuition.

Now that you have a few good prospective ideas for what to work on, put them to the test. Use Map 8 and score each project 1-10 against 3 criteria that you determine. It could be: easiest, most impactful, fun, fastest, for instance. Then, tally the totals and see how the projects rank. Last, weigh that against your gut. And feel the power that comes with deciding what you’re Next Great Work will be.



8. Change your workspace.

With your project in mind, consider the space you’ll be working on it in. Ensure it’s a space where your body and brain don’t habitually snap to “be efficient” mode. Instead, craft a place that isn’t the status quo and allows you be great.

9. Identify your supporters.

It’s accountability 101: When you tell someone you’re doing something, you’re 65% more likely to do it. Bungay Stanier said this stuck with him when he saw this stat in an American Society of Training and Development report. That’s why he raves about the importance of finding three types of people: who love you, who have skills, and who have influence.

So write down who each of these people are for you. And tell them about your Next Great Work today.

For more from Bungay Stanier, watch the author speak at General Assembly’s livestream book club below and follow him on Twitter!

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