Dissatisfaction with work can affect even the happiest employees from executive down to the front line. Sometimes it can be directly attributed to a discrete event: a new boss, lack of promotion, change in business strategy. However, it can also be the result of a less obvious and more pervasive problem: an inaccurate job description.

The disconnect between what we do daily and that little document that summarizes our responsibilities can be significant. A great way to address the resulting stress is to rewrite our job description.

Find it

Keeping job descriptions updated is not always a top priority. Yet getting a copy of the most recent formal list of responsibilities is the best place to start. Whether it was the job posting that got you in the door or the one-pager attached to your last performance review, find out the latest document being used to judge your work.

Armed with that — or while you are trying to get a copy from HR make a basic list of how you spend your time. Try to answer these three questions:

  • How many hours per week do you work?
  • How many of those hours are spent doing work someone else tells you to do? In other words, how many hours of work do you spend reacting, responding or doing what you are told?
  • Do you tend to get all your work done in a week, or would it still not get done if you had a week off to catch up?

Tag it

Next, draw a circle. Then, looking at the list of what you actually do every day, divide the circle into three slices to reflect how much time you spend doing administrative work, tactical work and strategic work. This information combined with the answers to the questions above, will give you an accurate picture of your priorities.

For example, is most of your day spent responding to other people's requests and filing associated paperwork? Great if you are a human resources coordinator; bad if you are an HR executive.

Get real

Often, leaders find it impossible to accomplish everything on their plate. And when they look at their pie chart, it shows little administrative work, a lot of tactical work and a little bit of strategic time.

This division of time creates the impression that they are productively leading projects. Yet the constant frustration of never being caught up may mean there are bigger problems and frustration will continue to grow.

Doing this exercise can uncover anything from a significant disconnect between expectations and reality to subtler but equally troublesome problems, like persistent understaffing. Gaining that knowledge, however, is critical to reducing our stress because defining the problem makes it much easier for us to take action. And taking action whether that is fighting for a new job description or adjusting our perspective and expectations affords us the opportunity to address the situation.

The bottom line: Understanding the disconnect between what we are expected to do and what we actually do can go far in reducing job dissatisfaction and stress.