The value of “stored work”

I listened to James Clear on the Coaching for Leaders podcast this morning. Clear was being interviewed about his new book, Atomic Habits (which sounds like a must read).

One of the things Clear mentioned over the course of the 45 minute interview was the concept of “stored work.” Meaning, sometimes we do a bunch of work toward an outcome but the manifestation of that outcome is just not happening.¬†Imagine writing 25 blog posts that nobody reads.¬†

He then said that when the manifestation of an outcome is difficult to see after a lot of work, it becomes easier to talk ourselves out of doing any more work. “If no one is reading what I am writing, then I might as well stop.” Then, he made an interesting comparison.

Imagine you are in a cold room and your goal is to melt an ice cube. The work to melt that ice cube is increasing the room’s temperature. The “stored work” in this sense is the work that increases the temperature of the room from its 20 degree starting point to 32 degrees. All that work, ice cube still frozen.

Maybe the effort has been wasted. But, if you just continue the work, eventually you will get to 33 degrees, 34 degrees, 35 degrees and so on. The ice cube melts.

Stored work is the work that sets the stage for the outcome to manifest. It’s all the studying before the mid-terms. It’s the thesis development and outlining before the book is written. It’s the hiking before the break at the vista.

The phrase “stored work” is pure gold. It may feel like all the work is a waste (and, to be sure, it might be), but during the dip in any project I will take any sliver of light or breathe of fresh air I can get.

by Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan is the Head Coach at Sandcastle Company, a Seattle-based leadership training organization. His first book, Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future [link], is now available. Jonathan regularly writes and speaks about The New Leader Way, leadership resilience, and the future of work. He has years of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, a master's degree from Seattle University, and professional coach training from the University of Miami.

Filed under: Leadership

Published on October 18, 2018

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