Skip to content

What is Meta-work? A Short Guide to This Enigmatic but Useful Concept

Mar 15, 2023
What is Meta-work

Did you know that a significant portion of what we do at the workplace is meta-work?

Referred to as the “work that makes work possible”, meta-work is focused on improving how work is done. 

This includes tasks like planning, organizing, and prioritizing. 

Scheduling kick-off meetings for a new project is an example of meta-work. 

Creating the documentation to describe the project and keep track of it counts as meta-work as well.

At this point, managers will probably relate, as researchers Salzmann and Palen have identified five types of tasks that comprise meta-work:

  • Time management

  • Task management

  • File management

  • Contact management

  • Communications management

Other examples of meta-work include planning tasks, scheduling deadlines, sharing information with stakeholders, and even deciding how documentation is controlled.

In this article, we explore the importance of meta-work, and also share useful tools and tips to spend less time and resources on it while getting all the benefits meta-work provides at the organizational level.

What does it take to do what we do?

Nowadays, most of the meta-work we do is aided by apps. 

We schedule meetings using Google Calendar, Calendly, and Zoom. 

We manage projects with ClickUp,, and Jira while documenting them in Notion and Confluence. 

We track tasks and time with Harvest and Clockify.

The list could go on forever! 

In fact, in a recent story about app fatigue we explore how the number of apps we use for work (and meta-work) is getting out of control and tampering with our productivity.

To reduce the amount of meta-work we indulge in, it’s important to keep our eyes open for optimization opportunities. 

This means auditing the apps we use (and why), cutting off the apps that don’t provide any real value, and automating as much as possible. 

In the end, meta-work costs us more than time and financial resources: It’s useful and necessary, but can also get in between us and the most fulfilling aspects of our profession. 

The relationship between automation and meta-work

Meta-work is one of the focal points of automation. 

This happens because the majority of tools that aid meta-work are automation-friendly, particularly when paired with platforms like Make.

As our Templates section shows, examples are quite abundant, but let’s display a simple one that fits the exact definition of meta-work.

The template above performs two meta-work tasks automatically: Creates a Zoom meeting for new Google Calendar events, and then updates each Google Calendar event with a link to the meeting in question.

By automating with Make, meta-work stops being a constant presence in your life and becomes an afterthought - something humming in the background, while you move towards the most rewarding aspects of work.

Final thoughts: Reducing the cost of meta-work

“Doing a task or using a tool is one of the costs that the user has to pay to achieve their goal.”

This sentence, written by AWS Problem Designer Pavel Samsonov, hits close to home when thinking about how much we exchange for doing the type of work that actually means something to us. 

As it turns out, meta-work is a cost, and keeping it reasonable is paramount if we want to feel satisfied with our work. 

This raises a couple of important questions: How much is meta-work costing you, and how much is it costing your company? 

In our view, the fastest, most efficient way to bring meta-work costs down is by automating as much of it as possible in as little time as possible. 

And for that to happen, Make is the answer to get everything done without putting in the time and effort that meta-work so often requires.


Martin Etchegaray

Content Manager and Senior Editor at Make. I enjoy writing and reading about history, science, and tech.

Like the article? Spread the word.

Get monthly automation inspiration

Join 75,000+ Makers and get the freshest content delivered straight to your inbox.