Lessons Learned From The Neighborhood Cleanup Day

The suburbs of Atlanta are covered with subdivisions. A good number of them have tennis courts and community swimming pools. When I moved here 9 years ago, the pool sounded good, but we hardly ever used the facilities. Behind it all was a team of volunteers who ran the board, responded to complaints from residents, and did everything they could to balance the annual budget while planning for ongoing maintenance of common areas.

We moved to a much smaller area three years ago. An older community with many residents being the original owners of their homes. As you might guess, I’m not a joiner. I don’t volunteer for boards or attend the monthly book club. But as a homeowner in an older subdivision, I am much more inclined to consider what I can do to help.

This past Saturday was neighborhood work day. A handful of residents had built a task list from repairing the doors of the pool pump room to spreading mulch on the playground to painting the bleachers in the tennis area. I went there, ready to meet a few folks and do my fair share.

There were several building-type tasks. Structures that needed repairs or replacement fence posts. Projects that took 2-4 people working together over the course of the day. There were also several tasks that could be done independently of anyone else. So what do you think I chose to do?

I hauled mulch. There was a big pile of mulch with a couple of wheelbarrows and pitchforks ready for able hands. I looked around at the various work groups painting, drilling, hammering, and raking, and went straight to the job that I could do with the least interaction and loaded mulch.

As I loaded and moved mulch, I wondered why I didn’t take the opportunity to do something at least a little more interactive. Here’s what I came up with.

  • It was Saturday, and my work weeks have been stressful lately. In a good way, but stressful. I was looking toward to a physical task that involved no problem solving.
  • I wanted to do the most I could in the few hours I had to offer. Work I could just control and do. Many of the group tasks rely on the group to work in a collaborative way. But I didn’t want to interact. I didn’t want to compare ideas on hinge placement or debate on the best way to set the fence posts.

I watched the people in the group projects. They were pretty effective. There were a couple of times where work came to a standstill while they waited for the right tool or for someone else to make a couple of cuts in the framing. But they were more effective than I expected.

Here’s the thing. My work requires a lot of collaboration, and sometimes a bit of mediation. For an introvert, these are draining activities. Doing hard labor on my own is a great way of recharging. That’s probably the attraction of running and walking to me. And blogging. Things I do on my own, at my pace.

And I think the more of those things I do, the better I can do my job.

Being better at your job isn’t just about learning new content. It includes learning more about yourself. What makes you better at work?


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