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Written on Bullshit Tasks

Bullshit Tasks

We are doing more pointless work than ever.

We have a habit of 'filling' time with bullshit tasks. A lot of people spend their days performing tasks that do not need to be performed. Like you have to invent pointless work to fill your time. I have a habit of doing the same.

By filling up that time we hide behind the easy work so that we don't do the important things we have to do. To then say we were busy with 'other things'.

I'm sorry, I didn't have time for that...

How come? Why can't we do one task each day (a highlight), that has a very big impact instead of filling the day with bullshit tasks. To make the work and the impact the measure, not time and how many (unimportant) tasks you completed.

I'm a teacher. And I would say my job is pretty socially valuable. David Graeber in his book Bullshit Jobs quotes research about how valuable different job sectors are which mentions education:

The most socially valuable workers whose contributions could be calculated are medical researchers, who add +$9 of overall value to society for every $1 they are paid.

For teachers, this is $1 for every $1 they are paid. We are on the second spot, just below the researchers. In contrast to e.g. the financial sector:

The least valuable were those who worked in the financial sector, who, on average, subtract a net -$1,80 in value from society for every $1 of compensation.

Even being in education I started to question my personal daily tasks. Especially at the end of last year many of my tasks consisted of e-mailing students, chatting with them on MS Teams, and constantly answering small questions.

And then after my whole morning being 'gone' to responding to 'seemingly urgent' requests I had two meetings scheduled. I attended both but felt empty afterward. Those meetings could have easily been text documents to fill me in on the latest details.

After that long day, I stressed because I only had '30 minutes left' in my workday to prepare my lesson for the following morning. The thing I should have done all along. I could spend the whole day preparing that lesson and make it the best lesson I ever gave. But instead, I decided to do bullshit tasks to have the 'feeling of being productive'.

The overall number of teachers per student remained largely constant. At the same time, the number of administrators and, above all, administrative staff ballooned to an unprecedented degree in the last few years.

Instead of building digital products for clients, I chose education to spend my time enabling others to do things. I'm forever grateful to have been given that opportunity in life but I feel like more and more of my time is spent on 'bullshit tasks' instead of the thing that's most important to me: thinking about how to give better education to students.

Danny de Vries