Thomas ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ Bear Blog

The 4 categories of work

Not all work is created equal. Some tasks drive greater value than others. Some tasks bring greater joy than others. In my work life, I've distilled all the different work I do into 4 categories:

1. Proactive work. Building lasting solutions to problems. A solution that addresses this instance of the problem, and future instances of the problem. Examples include feature development, automation scripts, & writing tests. And in some cases, can also include documentation, goal-setting, & strategizing.

2. Toil. Manually solving problems which frequently occur. This type of work can often feel like a "grind", when consuming much of your time & energy. Examples include manual server upgrades, manual data migrations, manual data entry, or responding to frequently asked questions.

3. Unplanned work. A task you receive which must be completed within the next ~48hrs. Examples include a customer request, a bug, or a production incident.

4. Meetings. No explanation needed here.

For me, the goal is to maximize time spent on proactive work, and minimize time spent on non-proactive work. Keep in mind that there will always exist some toil, unplanned work, & meetings which are valuable. But generally speaking, the goal is to solve the non-proactive work through proactive solutions (e.g. automation, communication standards).

This post was heavily influenced by the definitions within these books: