When people do what they love to do–or, when you do what you love–the work is it’s own reward. When that work turns into using work discretionary effort–those moments between formal assignments or project work when staff work on new, different stuff–to find new ways of innovating, you know people are really moving forward. 
My introduction to the term “discretionary effort” came through Crucial Conversations which I’m listening to:

Discretionary effort is a silver bullet and often an underutilized asset. Those who learn how to tap discretionary effort achieve a strategic competitive advantage.

In a work situation, encouraging people to enjoy their work–rather than just work for the paycheck, or as I heard one boss over the years call it, “the little slip of paper at the end of the month” as staff morale plummeted–yields greater returns in productivity and innovation over time. I can easily think of several strategic advantages that I’ve achieved as a result of how I’ve spent my discretionary effort, giving me an edge when involved in collaborative problem-solving. And, this reminds me of Google’s story:

Google allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program. (Source: How Stuff Works)

For example, as someone who wants to encourage online learning, I spend my discretionary effort reading about online learning tools, trying to figure out better ways to enhance that kind of work in my own environment. Even though employees may encounter obstacles, the obstacles add to the sense of adventure and excitement. Some times, those obstacles arise unexpectedly and can tap into what you learned while expending discretionary effort!
A few weeks ago, I spent time at home playing around with a project, learned some new skills. The purpose for my learning that skill was a personal project that had NOTHING to do with work. In fact, I was just curious about accomplishing a tedious task in a faster, simpler way. 
The week after learning that new skill–with no intent of ever using it at work–a problem arose that required the use of that new skill. My ability to solve the problem involved applying what I’d learned at home on my personal project to a work project. That problem not only saved me time and effort at work–allowing me to focus my time on other projects–but increased productivity and responsiveness to others in my workplace. Wow, that’s the kind of cross-over skill-building I like to see!
The desire to innovate flows from your enthusiasm and how you allocate your discretionary effort. If I hated what I was doing, I wouldn’t bother to learn how to make it better. If I worked only for a paycheck or waited to be told what to do, I wouldn’t be curious to find a better way. That insight also factors in at home, whether it’s technology or something as mundane (and, I find more joy in cooking, washing, than the activity I’m going to share about next–jogging).
In the past, a lot of my personal discretionary effort–as opposed to professional–has been spent exploring work-related passions. 
Over the last year, my focus for what I do during my discretionary time has changed. That’s impacted how much time I’ve taken to share what I’m learning as my time gets more segmented. As you might imagine, some of my new activities have been “time-sinks.” My new activities include the following:

  1. Exercising – More on this below.
  2. Setting up linux servers or studying how to do it for Moodle deployments. More on this in a last 5 blog entry.
  3. Reading fiction – More on this in a last 5 blog entry.
In this blog entry, I’m going to share what I’ve learned about Exercising, being pretty ignorant about it since I’ve not spent much time studying it or participating. Fortunately, while health is a general motivator, I don’t have a particular threat (e.g. diabetes, heart) forcing me to move. That’s been great on the one hand since I feel like I’m getting ahead, but on the other hand, not great because I feel this kind of exercise is “optional.” 
After a year and a half of exercising daily for an hour, I find that my day is incomplete if I haven’t spent an hour doing something active. Thank goodness for the force of habit…I get the same feeling about blogging!
Two summers ago, I found myself losing weight and toning muscle as I swam from one side of the pool to another. This past summer, I continued taking advantage of the pool membership, swimming 40-50 laps per swim session. When winter began, I found myself trodding on a treadmill, burning about 300-400 calories per session. Time spent on swimming and/or treadmill? About an hour. 
(Image Source: Bellicon,
Then, the treadmill–which had been a secondhand gift from a relative and lasted for a year of daily use–broke and fixing it was outside my budget. Fortunately, I re-discovered the mini-trampoline, hiding in a dusty corner of the master bedroom. I had begun jogging in place on it, but didn’t really believe that it would have any effect. Yet after a conversation with my wife, who insisted it was a serious way to burn calories, I decided to research it a bit. Wow, fascinating information on the subject:

Running in place actually burns more calories than traditional running, according to The same 150-pound person who burns 544 calories by jogging in place for an hour would burn only 476 calories on a moderate hour-long run. 

Some people like to jog on a small trampoline (called a rebounder) because it is easier on the joints. According to, a 150-pound person who jogs on a trampoline for an hour would burn about 300 calories an hour.
Read more: Calories Burned by Jogging in Place |

What?!? I was shocked that I could burn more calories jogging on a mini-trampoline in my house–while watching TV–than somebody jogging outside in the Texas weather!  I decided to verify and do the math, and sure enough, the Calories Burned Activity Calculator confirmed it. Of course, you can also do this with a simple proportion–which is one of the many valuable concepts that actually stuck to my brain in math class–like the one shown below that allows you to “solve for x”:

So, you can imagine my evenings now as I jog in place on the mini-trampoline (which, by the way, cost less than $50 on…I actually picked mine up for $20 at a garage sale years ago). You can find videos on using a mini-trampoline on YouTube, although one look at those, and I was thoroughly frightened away at the level of activity!!

Other colleagues have suggested using hula hoops, and I hadn’t considered that:

Here’s a link on hooping.  And…. yes guys hoop too!
Baxter is awesome

I still have a lot to learn about keeping fit, and I see the next big hurdle as building–or maintaining–muscle as I get older. Another positive is that my children have both started to pick up exercising as a daily activity…a great college going-away present for my children might very well be a mini-trampoline!

When I started down the road of spending my discretionary effort on exercise, I never imagined it would be as rewarding as it has been. When I reflect on exercise throughout my early years, I’m not surprised that I was turned off to it. Exercise was always someone else’s idea…at school, it was the coach’s idea to have us run around the track. The only time I remember exercise as something enjoyable was when I’d jog or bike around the Canal Zone (“Los Rios” neighborhood) in Panama looking for my errant beagle.
The lesson? I had to have a purpose I had chosen. It’s a simple lesson that drives what I do at home and work. How about you?

Get Blog Updates via Email!

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure