“Do the thing I’m excited to do, or do what needs to get done? Answer: get excited about what needs to get done.”

I wrote that a few weeks ago, and I thought I’d write a few more words about how I change gears mentally to focus on something that requires my attention.

Several years ago, when I worked at Vassar College, I was having lunch with a guy from IT — Phil. He was telling me about some tedious database queries he was working on. Phil was looking forward to getting the job done so he could move on to something else. It didn’t seem like he was having much fun.

Earlier that day, I happened to overhear a colleague in the communications department describe the project she was working on: a feat of content strategy that involved getting faculty bio information into one editable place and publishing the same bio to many different Vassar sites. It was going to make maintenance easier, keep bios consistent across sites, and allow faculty members to edit their own bio content. But to pull it off, she needed IT to run some database queries.

So I told Phil why he was doing those database queries. Turns out he got the assignment from his boss, who hadn’t explained the reasoning behind the task. Phil’s face lit up. He thought the project was awesome, and felt proud to be a part of it. Our five-minute chat totally changed how he felt about doing his work.

I think about that whenever my work feels like a chore. Sometimes all you need is to remember that your efforts are part of something bigger, and that getting your job done matters to someone.