change the toilet approach to work

LAST week I sat down to coffee with a former junior colleague of mine to whom I first revealed my ‘Toilet Approach To Work’ thesis months ago.

Unbeknownst to him, I had designed a mini-project to alter the way he lived his life and heighten whatever positives he might have, without presuming to be his mentor.

The process was lengthy and threatened to be frustrating, especially because he tended, like many do, to avoid my grumpy, critical and seemingly judgemental presence.

After realising that my tips and hints were probably just littering the air around him, and almost suffocating myself with the resultant frustration, one morning I snapped and summoned him for a chat.

It went well in that he listened and responded appropriately, but he kept blocking my points with excuses and reasons.

I had learnt the conflict resolution tactic of looking away briefly from your opponent/adversary, and as I did so to avoid an explosion at the young fellow, my eyes fell upon the toilet door.

It wasn’t attractive or catchy in any way, but I focussed on it as I contemplated my next move. I did consider, briefly, sending him through that door (NOT head first in anger!) to think about his life and that’s when the theory presented itself so quickly I turned back to him:

“Do you plan your day before you leave home for the office?”

“Er…yes. I think so…”


“I make sure I have enough transport…”

“THAT’S not planning. See that toilet door?”


“Do you plan your trips to the toilet?”

As expected, since I was making it up, we stumbled a little over this part until I had the explanation laid out:

20141026_114614We don’t plan our trips to the toilet (in general); we get an urge that is biologically stimulated, and our bodies respond to it as and when required.

Work should not be approached the same way; work needs to be approached with purpose, plans, objectives, motivation and energy.

The ‘Toilet Approach to Work’, I told him, covered the tendency people like him had of approaching work the way they do the call to the toilet.

For instance, some people go to the toilet and don’t even know what they will do once they’re there. They start at the urinal bowl, then find themselves having to sit on the toilet. Even then, they are totally unsure of the quality of their output, solid or not.

Either way, approaching work like one does the toilet generally results in waste material.

You don’t plan anything and just present yourself and the relevant bits of your digestive system, then biology takes over.

Whatever you’ve got is what you let out, until it’s done.

Approaching work like one does the toilet also leaves a foul smell, evidence of the quality of work you do, I told him.

And to avoid the foul smell lingering, approaching work like one does the toilet necessitates the application of air deodorisers and whatnot, which is an additional cost to the workplace correcting what you’ve done wrong.

He shouldn’t, I insisted, approach work like he was going to the toilet.

Instead, I implored the fellow, plan your day, set measurable targets, and spend time at work ensuring that you’re being useful and producing stuff that your colleagues will be pleased to see after you’ve left.

By this point, he had coughed up a little protest but I pressed on:

Many people, especially in workplaces, leave for the toilet with insincerity saying silly things like, “Let me come…” or “Be right back…” or “I’ve got to check on something…”

Then they screw their faces up into serious looks as if heading into the cubicle to concoct the cure for Ebola.

That, I explained, is the same as making empty promises to deliver reports “by COB” and “OTIF” and “meeting targets”. 

If you’re going to do something, just do it!

In the toilet, you’ve got to keep your head down, aim low, make as little noise as possible, and avoid physical contact with other people; if you do the same in the workplace then you’re a liability.

The toilet approach to work, I concluded, is as small-minded as the space allocated to the toilet in any ordinary workplace.

Think big. Aim high.

Don’t approach work as you do the toilet.

And please, ALWAYS wash your hands as you leave.

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