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Making things

If we made more things would we be happier?

In my research this summer professional people talked of how miserable they are at work,  working harder than ever but not seeming to get anywhere.  With no markers to show progress or few ways to show “completed” projects they feel demoralized, tired and uninspired at the very time we need more creative ways forward.

Is this why more people are painting, making videos, self-publishing, designing jewelry, refinishing old furniture, restoring cars, rebuilding playgrounds, staging community theater, using Pinterest, gardening, taking on home improvement projects themselves?  The feeling of starting something and then having something to show for our work can be so fulfilling.

I found myself recently ogling sewing machines, longing for my teenage days when I would save up money to buy a great Vogue pattern, beautiful fabric and special funky buttons, and then sew, sew, sew, creating something uniquely mine.  When I put on that new dress it was a sense of accomplishment, creativity.

I felt the same way when  I started writing articles for the local newspaper when I was a teenager.  I loved the making of an article — the research, the interviews, the writing, the editing — and then seeing the final finished product in my hands.

Psychology research has found that using our hands to make things decreases stress and relieves anxiety. It has also found that “purposeful creative or practical endeavors” leads to joyful, creative thought.

“When you make something you feel productive, but the engagement and exploration involved in the doing can move your mind and elevate your mood,” explains Dr. Carrie Barron in a Psychology Today article, “Creativity, Happiness and Your Own Two Hands.”

I suppose more of us could make things in our free time, something I’m going to try to do.

As for work, I feel that we have to work harder at giving people a sense of accomplishment.  Does anyone really have an inkling of  “joyful” accomplishment during annual performance reviews, the time when we’re supposed to be able to review accomplishment and plan what’s next? Nope.

Nor do most have any way of feeling like they’re making progress.  Knowledge workers especially face unending  tasks towards elusive fuzzy goals.  We have  big visuals to show how much has been raised to reach the United Way goal, but no way to see how our team or organization is progressing.

Setting the right goals and ways to measure progress is difficult.  This is why so few exist. It takes smart, committed leaders to set those and keep people focused on them.   The focus part is most important. Too often our organizational plans  are  long, long lists of unending priorities.  Employees feel like rats on a treadmill, going faster and faster and not making progress.

  • What if we could make more work a series of doable projects where people could create a finished project in less than three months or less?
  • What if we restored a “making things” mentality to work, rather than a “meeting about things”?
  • What if more people were makers vs. implementers?
  • What if more people had a sense of joyful accomplishment at work?

Let’s try.  I think it might be easier than sewing.