In this post we are going to talk about a very important concept that everyone should know. It’s called metawork, and if you know what it means it’s gonna save you a lot of time. You might even become ten times as productive.
What is Metawork?
So what is metawork? Let’s break it down. You of course know what the word work means, so I won’t get into that. What is meta? In contexts such as these, the word meta also denotes that the last part of the word sort of refers back to itself. So, you can regard metawork, as working to work. This is similar to for example the concept meta learning. There you learn how to learn, do you see. Or meta cognition. That is cognition about cognition itself.
So what do I mean exactly with working to work? Let’s look at an example. Say that you have to go to office to finish some paperwork for a deadline. The deadline is at 6 o’clock, and you have to work for around 7 hours to have it finished. Alright, so you wake up at around 7:30, groom yourself, eat some food and then take the car to work, arriving at 9. You take care of your paperwork for 3 hours, take a lunch break, and then work for another 4 hours to get the job done.
Alright, so lets make a distinction here. What is the real work you did here? (The actual work that contributed to finishing the deadline.) Well, that’s you actually doing the paperwork right. If you don’t do that, then you will not meet the deadline. What is the metawork then in this example? The work you need to do in order to start doing the actual paperwork. Well, that’s the grooming part, eating, driving to work, (also driving back from work), etc. This is all the stuff that doesn’t really matter for you meeting your deadline, you would also finish on time if all of this stuff was absent. So that is metawork, the stuff you need to do, in order to get the actual work done.
What immediately deserves to be stressed here is that we shouldn’t get rid of lunchbreaks or something in order to save time. Cutting breaks is actually terribly bad for your productivity. We should aim at having a small break every hour or so, and also a bigger break for lunch. But what we should do is try to cut away some metawork here and there which is actually pretty useless.
Examples of Saving Time
For example, working at home whenever possible is great because that does save you a lot of metawork that doesn’t really have much use: your trip to work. This can take up around 1 or 2 hours of your entire day. That’s 5 to 10 every week, 20 to 40 every month, and 240 to 480 hours a year. So if you work at a fulltime job and go to work every weekday (let’s ignore holidays for now) you spend 10 to 20 days per year traveling. That’s a very big chunk of time. If you had 20 days extra in the year you would take it right? Imagine all of the stuff you could do.
Of course actually physically going to work has its benefits too, you can collaborate with colleagues, and usually it’s also more fun to be around people. But if you can get the opportunity to work at home sometimes, you should take it. It saves you a lot of metawork, and you can get more done, or have more time to relax.
Also with respect to grooming, it is of course very important to stay hygienic, but if you work at home at least you don’t have to fix your hair, or shave, put in your contact lenses, or whatever people need to do to groom themselves. It saves a lot of time. One extra hour to the things you love.
Another way in which you can save time by eliminating metawork is by being organized and knowing where you keep stuff around the house. Searching for stuff is also metawork! If you wanna watch tv but can’t find the remote, then looking for the remote is metawork. Be organized and this will save you time, time you can spend on doing stuff that’s actually fun. A lot of people have told me in the past to be organized, but I didn’t listen, until I heard this reason. Then I finally understood the usefulness of being organized. It saves you time.
There are numerous other examples of metawork. Perhaps you can think of any in your own life? Also keep in mind that some forms of metawork are still necessary, for example sleeping, but others are unnecessary, like spending 5 min every time after a break on remembering what you were doing. Please let us know what you have found, and ways in which you can save time by eliminating metawork.