Who are You Doing it For? (Day 19 of 30 Days of Getting Results)



“Beauty is altogether in the eye of the beholder.?” — Lew Wallace

Your Outcome: Figure out who the things you do are really for.  See how whether the work you do is actually “above the line” or “below the line” in terms of whether you’re getting ahead, or just treading water.

Welcome to day 19 of 30 Days of Getting Results.   In day 18, we learned how to add more creative hours to your week.   Today, we learn how to get clarity on who the work we do is really for.  With great clarity, comes great conviction.  When you know who you are actually doing things for, you can check whether what you’re doing is really valued, or if there is something higher priority.  You can then invest more of your time and energy in things that have more value.  More importantly, you can better map the value you create to what people actually care about, including yourself.  When something you do is actually for you, make sure it’s what you really value.  When something you do is for something else, make sure it’s what they really want or care about.

This one simple practice will help you avoid crossed-expectations with yourself and others.

It will also help you avoid feeling underappreciated, and it will also help you actually flow more value for yourself and others on a regular basis.  A little clarity goes a long way.

What Value Are You Delivering?
When you throw time and energy at things, look at it in terms of “value delivered” versus “activity performed”, and remember that value is in the eye of the beholder … whether it’s value to yourself, to your manager, for the company, or for the world.

Value is in the Eye of the Beholder
One common pitfall is throwing a lot of time and effort at things, only to find that when you’re done, nobody cares.   You need to figure out who you are really doing it for, and how valued it really is.

  • If it’s for you, don’t expect appreciation.  If it’s actually for you, that’s perfectly fine.  You have to take care of your needs and wants, too.  Just don’t expect others to appreciate it, since it’s not actually for them.   If you keep feeling a lack of appreciation, then ask yourself, “Who was I really doing it for?” If it was actually for yourself, then figure out whether it was what you most cared about, or whether you could have invested the same time in something else and made more impact.
  • If it’s for somebody else, find out how much they really care.  If you were doing it for somebody else, ask them whether what you’re working on is really the most important thing to them, right now. Check with them!  Whether it’s your customer or your partner or whoever, it’s easy to assume they should value it, just because you do, or because you think they should.   It’s also very possible that what was important to them at one point, is no longer as important (time changes what’s important.)  If you’re working on a lot of low-priority items, don’t expect to get the rewards.   Your success depends on figuring out their true priorities and mapping the value you deliver to that.   At work, I find that people don’t always know what they really value, so I tend to simply ask, “What are some of your worst problems on your plate?”  This helps quickly separate all the things a manager might tell you to do versus what’s really on their radar and what they really care about.
  • Don’t become a dumping ground.  The more you work on low-priority items, the more you become a dumping ground. The more you become a dumping ground, the busier you get; and the busier you get, the more overloaded you will feel. Now the worst happens—you’re overworked, underappreciated, and no fun to be around.
  • Get off the treadmill.  By failing to work on what’s valuable and by failing to understand and reset expectations, you’ve worked yourself into an unrewarding, high-stress scenario.

A common scenario on a team is where somebody spends a lot of time ramping up and learning.  They aren’t actually delivering value for the team yet.  They get frustrated that they don’t feel appreciated and they say how much time they’ve spent learning or figuring things out or working hard.  The lens they are missing is that they are just doing what’s expected which is “below the line”, and they haven’t risen “above the line” yet.  They need to see that, at that stage or at this point in time, the value is actually for them and that it’s their own growth.

Above the Line or Below the Line
Some things you do will be “value-add.” Others will just be expected. In the following figure, the dotted line separates what’s expected from what’s valued:


You need to consider whether the work you do is “above the line” or “below the line.”  If you want to maximize your impact, you need to first take care of what’s expected, and then focus on value “above the line.”

Above the Line (Valued)
Here’s a figure to help you visualize “above the line.”


Work that’s “above the line” is considered value-add. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Note that even in “above the line” work, you should still prioritize to maximize value to yourself or others.

Below the Line (Expected)
Here’s a figure to help you visualize “below the line.”


Work that’s “below the line” is just expected. It’s like treading water. The funny thing about “below the line” work is that doing more of it won’t get you ahead, but not doing it will likely cause you pain. Some people call this “the cost of doing business” or “the tax you pay.”

Points to Ponder to Deliver More Value
Here are some points for you to ponder to help you deliver more value to yourself and others:

  1. Is the work you do considered “above the line” or “below the line”?
  2. Where are you at in terms of achieving results: “above the line” or “below the line”?
  3. Are you working on stuff that’s valued?
  4. Who is the value for: you or somebody else?

The important thing is for you to have an appropriate frame of reference for the value of what you’re doing. If you don’t feel appreciated for what you’re doing, this might be “below the line” to somebody else. You also might find that you’re stuck taking care of everything that’s “below the line” and you can’t get your head above water. The fix is usually reprioritizing what’s on your plate, figuring out what the real values and expectations are, and resetting expectations with yourself and others. The last place you want to be is grinding away on something that neither you nor anyone else will value, or worse, missing basic expectations that minimizes your overall effectiveness.

Today’s Assignment

  1. For the things that are on your plate, get clarity on who they are really for.  It’s fine for things to be both for you and other people, but if it’s for other people, you might want to check whether they actually value it or would prefer something else.  Don’t be surprised if what they value is not the same as what you value.  However, you can often find or create a bridge.
  2. Figure out the things that you really need to do for yourself.  Do them guilt-free.  Remember that the better you can take care of yourself, the better you can take care of others.  Build a firm foundation and a platform for yourself, so you can do great things and flow value for yourself and others.  One way to remind yourself of some of your basic needs is to explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

My Related Posts

Photo by Bert Heymans.


  1. What a beautiful cutting question!!
    It was a real a-ha for me few years ago when I was angry at my kids for disturbing me when i took work home…. like WTF?!

    It never happened again 😉

  2. Great post…:) i can relate to this very well. the pictures help get more clarity on things

    this should help me feel less overwhelmed or overloaded…

    guess it’s a matter of basic things 1st before getting ahead

  3. Hi J.D. — that’s an excellent and confronting question to ask, I think — “who am I really doing this for?” I think a lot of people wouldn’t like the answer they got to that question, so it’s something we tend to shy away from asking. I mean, imagine if people asked themselves regularly “who did I get into this marriage for?” and questions about similarly “important” aspects of life. Then again, we’d all take a lot more control of our destinies, I suspect!

  4. @ Positively Present — Thank you. It’s the type of concept where I thought a visual was important. I figured that either the visuals would help, or worst case the metaphors of “treading water” and “treadmill.”

    @ Alik — Thank you. It sounds like you answered your wake up call and it’s served you well, ever since.

    @ Riza — Thank you. I find that when your roots are strong, it’s easier to go out on a limb.

    @ Chris — Thank you. I think it’s very revealing. I also find that balancing the WIIFY (What’s In It For You) + WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) is a key to creating a sustainable path, or at least helping reduce crossed-expectations.

  5. Hi, Really good post that elaborate priority versus effort we do. I must say every time result should be considered about quality you have rather than on how much time you spend on it.

    The images you have provided can help to go in right way if anyone is going but without final sight.

  6. “Don’t become a dumping ground” – that one’s pretty meaningful to me, as I have definitely allowed this in the past. Over the last year, I’ve really focused on becoming better in this area (and it helps!!). Still, the reminder here is excellent, as I know I also still slip up sometimes…

  7. I love your clarity, JD. So many people never get ahead because they check-out at the “below line” level. Successful achievers know breakthroughs happen “above the line.” When we go the extra mile it is in our best interest because this is when we really have breakthroughs and create the highest version of our self.

  8. Hi JD .. so true – I particularly like your last paragraph part 2 – that firm foundation for oneself .. and I’m sure in my working life I was probably working just below the expectation line ..

    Now I’m freer and looking at new horizons .. I can move above the expectation line .. and develop that value aspect .. creating that pay it forward aspect .. providing value to others, then reaping some benefit back – initially from the satisfaction of giving value to others and seeing it .. then moving on, if that’s the goal, to an earning perspective.

    Thanks – JD .. as Rob says .. ‘great clarity’ .. have a good weekend .. Hilary

  9. @ Shailesh — Thank you. I wasn’t sure whether the metaphor or the visuals would work better, but I’m glad to hear the images help.

    @ Lance — My discipline, responsibility, and accountability used to work against me. I finally realized, I needed to be a better gate keeper and push back where it makes sense, and take on the right things. It made a huge difference.

    Several years back, I heard Leonardo DiCaprio only takes on movies that he wants to be a part of and that create a portfolio he’s proud of. I shifted to that model, and I try to drive from the experiences I want to create.

    @ Rob — Thank you. It took me a while to see how much more impact I could make by spending more energy above the line. I literally had to flip my model. I spent so much time doing what was “necessary”, but the problem was that “necessarY” was not sufficent for the breakthroughs or getting ahead. I changed my game when I started investing more time and energy above the line, and learned to let the right things go.

    @ Hilary — Thank you. We live in an ever-changing world that seems to change at a faster pace. I’ve found the best ways to survive and thrive are building a firm foundation, having a simple system for results that’s flexible and changes along with you, and having a personal catalog of principles, patterns, and practices for effectiveness, along with useful lenses for looking at things (It all adds up to a living knowledge base of your personal success patterns.)

  10. I totally understand how discipline, responsibility, and accountability could work against you. You do ‘it’ because you can and you are most probably good at it than anyone else there. Or you do ‘it’ because it seems interesting and you would want to see how you can handle it. “It” might be a good idea. But your precious time and energy could be taken away from your true priorities…

    I suffered from the case of unintentional & good-intention mistakes a lot before. I still do somewhat. But I am getting good at avoiding “the situation” with the WIIFY and WIIFM questions. I delegated one weekly responsibility (coordinating with 40+ people) to someone new. I found two backups to take a lead over a community project and shared my intention to step down with one of them. There are few other things I could trim from my schedule. The transition will happen at the best timing.

    Time really changes our priorities. Everything I decided to do seemed like a good idea few years/months ago. Sometimes the right thing to do is to plan a good transition away from projects instead of trying to fit new or better things into our schedule. This is one of the biggest lesson I am so glad that I learned this year.

    We can hugely improve the quality of power hour and creative hour by examining our priorities. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It’s really important to re-evaluate and improve our daily choices.

    My quotes of the day are:
    “I am easily satisfied with the very best.” Winston Churchill
    “Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” Oscar Wilde
    Once we know the best we can experience, how can we dilute the values of serenity and lower quality of the ‘quality time’ we get to enjoy? By the way, I enjoyed reading The Elusive 600 and your reply on my comment for Day 18. Thank you.

    • I like that — real riches can’t be stolen.

      One of the secrets of living well is to focus our time on high-value activities.

      And “value is in the eye of the beholder.”

      The trick is to find ways to spend more time in our values, while doing it in sustainable way. Time is our friend or foe, depending on whether we work with it, or against it.

      I’m a fan of getting time on my side, where little things add up over time.

      Related, there is some great insight in the book Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life on how to make the most of life. To make the most of life, spend time in each of the 4 key areas each day: 1) Happiness, 2) Achievement, 3) Significance, 4) Legacy. You can’t measure life by just one yardstick, and you can’t move through the four sequentially.

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