Maybe it’s because of September. Maybe it’s because the great Patrick Lencioni will be on campus next week. Maybe it’s because my desk is a pile of papers each facing a different direction … but I have been thinking a lot about work recently. I looked up saintly advice on how to do it better. Here is what I found.
1. Clean Your Desk . (At Least Once a Week.)
I say this with great trepidation, because of the aforesaid condition of my desk, but I think you’re supposed to keep your desk clean.
I even once confessed my messy desk to a priest. For my penance he told me to organize my desk. I said, No, that was impossible, and he gave me a different penance.
Pope Benedict spoke about both confession and cleaning your desk when he said:
“It is very helpful to confess with a certain regularity. It is true our sins are always the same; but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week even if the dirt is always the same, in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen, but it builds up.”
This is a powerful quote for me because it suggests that I am neither cleaning my desk often enough nor going to confession enough. But I am going to start, so that the clutter might not build up until it is not seen.
2. Ignore your email when you get home.
I have always admired people who do not respond to my frantic weekend work e-mails until Monday. By leaving their work at work, they are following the advice of two recent popes.
Pope John Paul said it with his philosophical profundity:
“Work is for man and not man for work.” —St. John Paul II.
… and Pope Francis said it with his slightly snarky directness.
Modern work habits are “slave labor, work that enslaves.”
He’s right … if you are prioritizing your boss over your wife, you probably love your boss too much or your wife too little (and you’re forgetting that only one of those two relationships is a sacrament).
At the end of my life, I want to be surrounded by the grateful gazes of family members who actually knew me, not certificates of appreciation with throwback corporate logos on them.
3. Work to be watched.
“Professional work, whatever it is, becomes a lamp to enlighten your colleagues and friends,” said St. Josemaria Escriva, who was all about being Catholic at work.
It reminds me of the time my dad took me through the McDonald’s breakfast drive-thru as a kid once and then parked at a spot overlooking a medical campus where a man was mowing the lawn.
“Watch this guy,” he said. “He’s good.”
And he was — executing hairpin turns around trees, and making patterns in the grass.
Dad said you can always learn something watching someone who takes care about what they do, and he was right. I think I do things better because of that guy. Except for my desk. But I am going to fix that.
4. Thank God for your boss (and thank your boss too).
We are all familiar with St. Thérèse of Lisieux who said “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ.”
I always thought that meant I needed to feel a little mystically choked up when I reviewed a spreadsheet at work. But a light bulb went on in my head when a friend of mine told me he thanks God for his boss and prays for him every day.
I was shocked. He didn’t like his boss much, I knew. But he said he has had far worse bosses, and he has been unemployed, so he knows how good he has it.
And it occurred to me that his was a simple way to put St. Thérèse’s injunction into practice.
And whatever you are, do not be the guy who complains about everything that happens at work … because doing little things with bitterness and bile does not charm the Heart of Christ. In fact:
5. Let there be peace at work, and let it begin with me!
“You must lovingly leave some work to others,” said St. Francis de Sales, “and not seek to have all the crowns.”
They say nice guys finish last, but in my experience “kind” guys — guys who are good to the boss and compliment others and help co-workers — tend to advance a lot more often than nasty people who look out for themselves, and a lot faster than nice people who have mastered the art of sweetly refusing to do what they are supposed to.
It’s all there in Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team. By “look out for themselves” I mean those people who Lencioni says are looking to their next job and not the one they are in. By “nice” I mean what Lencioni calls politics: “Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think,” he said. Neither thrives.
If we all approach each work day with Catholic sweetness, trying to make everyone else look good while increasing the company’s benefit to society and flowage to the bottom line, just imagine how beautiful the world will be.