The benefit of doing the crappy job

Agreeing to do what others don’t want to can uncover opportunities.

Image courtesy of Jeremy Thomas via Unsplash

I worked my way through college as a maintenance and grounds employee in the school district where my parents lived. A friend of mine got me the job and it was the perfect summer gig for a college kid, consistent hours and decent pay. There were about five of us kids working there and we were effectively contract workers without the contract.

The full time custodial staff and grounds crew not only had contracts, they were also in a union. Most of the guys were pretty good and worked for their paychecks. But they also knew how the system worked. When a one off, crappy job came up they would inquire about their job description and ask to put it off until they checked with their union rep. On occasion they would even insist upon certain equipment or apparel to do a job “safely” even when everyone knew their request was overkill.

During the summer, that meant crappy jobs fell down to the summer help. One time, I think it was my second summer there, we were cleaning out classrooms at the end of the school year. Teachers were given instructions on what to do with the items they wanted to keep and where to leave trash or discard items. By the time we got to the classrooms the teachers were off on vacation.

One of the teachers didn’t follow directions (a rant for another time) and left two bags of personal items unlabeled, which made them trash. The bags wound up in a dumpster with the trash from ball fields, cafeterias, and two schools worth of lockers. Generally very disgusting sources of trash. The day before the dumpster was to be emptied, the teacher realized their error and called, begging us to retrieve the bags from the dumpster. A crappy job for sure.

The head of maintenance and grounds was an old softy and he agreed that we would get her bags. None of the full time guys would even discuss climbing into the dumpster. The summer help all had an opinion on why someone else should have to do it.

After some debate I climbed into the dumpster and picked through to find her bags. It was disgusting and if you’ve never dumpster dove, it’s worse than you think.

For two weeks after that I wound up with every crappy job in the school district. Washing trash barrels, cleaning out refrigerators that were accidentally unplugged, and clearing the debris from the storm drain all fell to me. None of them were as bad as the dumpster dive but no one wanted to do them. It wasn’t the kind of work you enjoy, but I did it without complaining.

Then the payoff came. Someone needed to drive two hours to pick up a box of tiles. They asked me to do it. It was the easiest job and everyone begged to let it be them. After that there was painting in the air conditioned office on the hottest day of the summer, me again. All the easy jobs started flowing my way.

I still wound up with the occasional crappy job, stuff needed to get done, but most of the time I got off easy.

As a solopreneur we don’t get much choice. We could outsource the job, but if you’re trying to get a business off the ground outsourcing might be more costly in both dollars and time than you can afford.

That means either we do the crappy job or we let it go undone. Sometimes I let them go undone. After all isn’t that the benefit of being the boss? I can decide what must be done and what can wait. Other times I try and work around something I don’t really want to do. It usually ends up making more work and spawning additional crappy jobs.

When I buckle down and do the job I expected to be crappy I wind up feeling pretty good. It means the business, the whole project, is worth it to me. I’ll do whatever it takes to move forward.

Inevitably I also learn something while doing the crappy job. Either about myself or about the work. Maybe I’m good at it or I have ideas to improve that step of my process. In the future when I’m in a position to outsource something I know what that task is like and can more easily identify value.

You don’t need to go and seek out crappy jobs, but maybe you shouldn’t try so hard to avoid them every now and then.

I have a goal to write a post on Medium every day for the month of May, this is a big change for me. My focus is on how we can adapt and drive the changes we want to see in our lives. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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