If you work for an organization of any size, chances are you do tasks that are “mandatory” but not especially useful or valuable; most people have recurring responsibilities they resent, so they do the bare minimum.

  • A form or checklist that must be filled out each day even though none of the information has changed since yesterday.
  • A meeting you must attend each week despite the fact that you have nothing to add to the conversation.
  • A training all employees are required to attend even though the subject has nothing to do with you or your work.

These “check-the-box”, “go-through-the-motions”, “pencil-whipping” exercises are toxic. They send a message to employees: “this company doesn’t really care about you, your time or the quality of work we do… what matters is completing the paper-work, signing the roster, proving that you were present.”


Yeah. Ok. Sure. Not going to happen, right? If you’ve worked for an organization of any size you know the Golden Rule: the folks who pass out the gold get to make the rules. 

Here’s the thing: there are ways to make these tasks less toxic. We can meet these requirements without undermining our organization’s culture. As a leader, it’s up to you to put an end to “checking-the-box” and counter the destructive message these tasks send. Here’s how:

Find the Intention: 

Every form, meeting and training began as a good idea. Somewhere, maybe a long time ago, someone faced a problem and the solution was the requirement you now resent:

  • “We need folks to think through their task before going to work… let’s give them a form they can follow to make sure they consider every aspect of the task.”
  • “It’d go better if folks got together regularly to share information and ideas… let’s schedule a meeting and make sure each department is included.”
  • “This information is so important… let’s invest whatever time it takes to ensure every employee is exposed to this information and understands what to do.” 

If you’ve got a “check the box” task, ask yourself, “What was the intention here? Why did someone think this was a good idea?”

Commit to the Intention: 

Commit to doing the task in a way that achieves that intention.  

People ahead of Paperwork: 

Fulfilling the intention for these tasks usually involves people thinking, talking and listening to each other… so make that the focus. 

If your team is required to fill in a form each day, ask them about the content of the form, before asking if the form is complete. If you attend a mandatory meeting, speak up and ask questions… don’t sit in the back with your arms crossed. And if you’re scheduled for mandatory training, give it a sincere shot – challenge yourself to, you know, learnsomething rather than looking to sign the roster and leave early.

What about “CYA” processes? 

If you’ve worked for an organization of any size, chances are you have to do some tasks where the intention includes managing liability – documenting activity to protect the company in case of an inspection, audit or lawsuit. 

Here’s a pro-tip for those soul-crushing tasks: suck it up. Quit complaining and get behind it. 

Ask someone who’s been deposed by lawyers or called to testify in a trial whether they wished they had more or less documentation with them; ask them how they feel about the time spent filling in permits, datasheets and rosters, having spent time in a courthouse. They’ll tell you the paperwork that once seemed like a hassle was worth its weight in gold once the lawyers got involved.


Regardless of our job title, we have an affect how our teammates think, feel, talk and behave. If we want work to be fulfilling and engaging, it’s up to each of us to choose our attitude. “Checking-the-box” is a toxic mentality; it undermines commitment to people and quality. Don’t complain about the hassle or moan about the extra work. Choose to find the value in these tasks; commit to fulfilling the intention; and most importantly, put people ahead of the paperwork.

Interested in learning more? Ready to put an end to pencil-whipping where you work? We’re ready to help. This article first appeared on www.humanus-solutions.com

About the author: Andy Erickson is a founder and principal consultant at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at aerickson@humanus-solutions.com


One thought on “Stop checking-the-box! Making routine tasks matter

  1. Andy, Thank you for sharing! This was a great article and I will pass this along to my team.

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