3 Ways to Tell if You're Actually Helping

My kids love “helping.” When I’m cooking dinner, they want to “help.” When I’m fixing something around the house, they want to “help.” If they’re told that I don’t need any help with my task and they can help by doing something else, cleaning up their toys, for example, they will sometimes whine, “but I want to heeelllllp.”

I’ve had to explain to them a couple times, gently, of course, that they don’t actually want to “help.” What they want to do is “participate.” Helping means you’re making the job easier. Participating just means that you’re “part” of the job. Of course I’ll humor them sometimes and let them participate, show them how to use a screwdriver or can-opener, but it’s important for them, as they grow into adults, to recognize the difference.

We adults often don’t, though. I’ve found myself looking over my designer’s shoulder making suggestions, or popping in on my developer’s Git repository poking through code, deluding myself that I was “helping,” when really I probably just had some other boring task that I wanted to be distracted from for a while. We might have a whole specific to-do list of tasks that are truly helpful to the organization (akin to my kids cleaning up their toys) and be struck with an idea for something else that we can justify as “helpful” and work on that instead — simply because it’s what we’d prefer to be doing

So, below I’ve created a list of 3 ways that you can tell if you’re actually being helpful.

1. Is someone else already doing the job?

If someone else is already doing the job, and getting it done to an acceptable standard, then your involvement is probably not helpful. If they ask for help, are struggling with a timeline, or you notice a glaring mistake or deficiency, you may want to temporarily assist, or allocate helpful resources.

2. Do you really enjoy doing what you’re thinking about “helping” with?

If you’re thinking about “helping” someone with a task, take a second to ask yourself if that task is something that you really enjoy doing. If it is, then you might be kidding yourself. Seriously, it sounds so obvious, but it’s an easy thought-pattern to fall into. Our brains will come up with all kinds of reasons why we should be “helping” on tasks that we really enjoy doing. It’s not a dead giveaway, but it’s a good signal to self-evaluate.

3. Do you already have other things that need to get done?

In a business-setting, especially small or medium sized businesses, “helping” means that you’re helping the whole organization. It’s important to keep that holistic perspective. While someone might benefit from a bit of help on a task, if you already have important items on your list, then you’ll probably be of more real help to the organization if you focus on what you need to do.

BONUS TIP: Participate every once in a while.

Ok, you don’t have to be a hard-ass about it all the time. Sometimes it’s great to cross departments or take a little break from your workload to participate in someone else’s work. Just be real about it. You’re there for your own enjoyment and development, and you might be able to help out a little while you’re at it. Be grateful to the person who is allowing you to participate, even if it’s a subordinate, and make sure your own to-do list doesn’t slip.

I run Do Good Design Co., a Purpose-First Digital Branding Agency. We’d love to “help” you build your brand and business online. No, really.