Definition: Metawork

Urban Dictionary offers the following definition for the word ‘metawork’:

Trivial or unnecessary work done to avoid having to perform the real task at hand while simultaneously taking the credit for it.

In the business world, metawork often manifests itself in the form of meetings, mission statements, project planning, or anything else that lets a person become part of the team without actually doing something productive.

I use metawork in a similar sense to refer to work which, though necessary, does not directly result in progress toward project goals. Meetings, project charters, evaluations and timecards all fall into the category of metawork.

Most middle management spends the bulk of their time doing metawork. Ideally this minimizes the amount of metawork their employees must do maximizing the amount of time employees can spend on actual work.

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4 thoughts on “Definition: Metawork”

  1. >> Ideally this minimizes the amount of metawork their employees must do maximizing the amount of time employees can spend on actual work.

    That’s “ideally” in the sense of “it would be nice if the world worked this way but actually the opposite is the case” 🙁

  2. APC, you’re right. I have had several bosses in my professional career.

    One of them understood this. All others have passed their metawork off to their underlings and some have even caused more metawork for those under them.

  3. I’m surprised by your definition, esp. the negative flavor of it. To me, metawork is the necessary aspect of self-management that allows us to be productive. In that sense, it’s a crucial part of work, and therefore isn’t a waste (i.e., it actually is “real work”).

    From “Constant, Constant, Multi-tasking Craziness” (http://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/CHI2004.pdf):

    “Individuals spend part of their day on a set of activities that is not connected with any specific working sphere but rather related to the management of all of them. We call these activities METAWORK. People periodically conduct metawork throughout the day, which involves coordination, checking activities, organizing email, organizing their desk at the start or end of a working day, and catching up with teammates on what they have missed.”

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