How to Make the Mundane Meaningful

If you woke up to today’s to-do list and felt a wave of tiredness come over you, you’re not alone. For many, once fulfilling roles and engaging teams morphed into a crowded inbox, devoid of inspiration and purpose.

The reason is often lack of meaning. Meaning stems from a belief that our work matters to someone. It’s hard to feel inspired when you’re just checking the boxes.

The ability to create shared belief is a hallmark of top-tier organizations, be it a company, a family, or a community.  When the hearts and minds are aligned towards a higher purpose, it drives effort, engagement, and innovation. The qualitative things we believe in today are directly linked, in fact predictive, of the quantitative results we will experience in the future.

Creating shared belief isn’t the job to the CEO, HR, or marketing team. The onus is on each of us to bring belief to our workplaces. Here are three strategies you can use to make the mundane meaningful:

1. Get clear (REALLY clear) about your impact. We often answer the question, “What do you do?” with our job title. It’s factual, but rarely tugs at our heart strings. Instead, challenge yourself. When you get more specific about the impact you have on customers or your team, the more engaging your daily tasks will become. One way to articulate your impact is to examine, what would happen if you didn’t do your job. If you and your team failed to deliver, what would happen? And who will be affected?

2. See beyond the moment. How will what you’re doing improve life for people (your customers and/or constituents) months, even years down the road? A vision of what could be helps us see beyond the crisis of the day and gives our minds something to look forward to. Talking about the future and the impact you can have on the world keeps the energy high.

3. Humanize your customer (even if you never meet them). This is particularly crucial when you work in a backstage role.  Use customers’ real names when you can, hang up a couple of photos of customers in your home office, and tether yourself back to improving their condition. Having a vivid mental picture of the individuals and organizations who are counting on YOU and your company will ignite your frontal lobes, making you more creative and a better strategic thinker.

Consider this excerpt from the second edition of Selling with Noble Purpose

Wharton business school professor Adam Grant’s now-famous study of call center workers illustrates the financial impact of infusing your team with purpose. Grant studied paid employees at a public university’s call center whose job was to phone potential donors and ask for money. As you might imagine, it’s not a fun job. The employees don’t get paid much and suffer frequent rejections from people unhappy about getting calls during dinner. It’s hardly the kind of work that inspires passion. Turnover is high, and morale is often low. 

In the 2007 study, Grant and a team of researchers—Elizabeth Campbell, Grace Chen, David Lapedis, and Keenan Cottone from the University of Michigan—arranged for one group of call center workers to interact with a scholarship student who benefited from their fundraising efforts. It was a quick five-minute conversation where call center workers were able to ask about the student’s studies. But it had a huge impact on the team’s sense of purpose. Over the course of the next month, callers who had met with a student spent more than two times as long on the phone and reeled in a donation average of $503, a 170% increase compared to the previous average of $186. 

Put a few 000s on those numbers and apply them to a team. These studies reveal that illustrating collective purpose and the impact of the work is easy to implement and produces better results. 

Leaders, both formal and informal, who are able to humanize daily tasks and link those tasks to a collective, high impact purpose, are the people who will sustain motivation through major challenge and change.