Well there certainly are these tasks in my life that ruin my productivity. How about yours? You know the ones that are there to be done and you don’t want to do them. These are the projects that make taking out the trash and doing the dishes seem like Disneyland. Okay I’m joking on that one. But there are always parts of a job that are boring and ugly. We don’t want to do them.
If you were rich you could hire someone else to do the job for you. However, most of us are not rich and some of us are Scotch. (Insert any nationality you want that doesn’t like to spend money.) So that means these tasks are all ours. Are they that hard? Not really. To be perfectly honest we just don’t like doing them. How can we make that different?
I’ve had two perspectives come to me lately and I’m going to share them with you.
Cows and Buffalo
Are you a cow or a buffalo? This illustration came from a podcast that I listen to back in December. When storms come down on the eastern slopes of the Rockies in Colorado it can be very sudden and very wet. Cows see the storms coming and start running downhill to the east away from the storm. Storms are generally faster than cows so the storm catches up with them while they are running and then proceeds to soak them as they continue running. Net result is a lot of wet cows.
The buffalo, on the other hand, have a different approach to adversity. They see the storm coming and they stand and then charge the storm. The storm reaches them sooner than it reaches the cows. However, by running at the storm it passes over faster and the buffalo don’t get as wet as the cows do.
Now I’m not sure this is really the case between cows and buffalo. However, it can work as an illustration about dealing with difficult tasks. If we turn and face the task head on we can complete the task sooner and with less difficulty than if we keep on avoiding the task. You don’t want to know how long I can stretch out an ugly task. (Please don’t ask my wife either.) Lately I’ve been trying to turn and face these tasks head on. In one case the task was completed in two days. That’s right only two days! It was a challenge to focus on the task but it is such a relief to have completed it. Getting rid of an ugly task helps my productivity in other areas.
With a little bit of internet research I came up with the following which might be the real source to the story:
Cows run away from the storm while the buffalo charges toward it – and gets through it quicker. Whenever I’m confronted with a tough challenge, I do not prolong the torment, I become the buffalo. Wilma Mankiller
The Productivity Project
The second perspective comes from the book, “The Productivity Project”. Written by Chris Bailey it details his experiments at becoming more productive by taking a year to focus on just being as productive as possible. He lays a good ground work that your most productive time is when three aspects of your life align. You need attention, energy, and time. He describes how to improve all three of these aspects in his book.
My challenge is that with the tasks I like doing, like turning at my lathe; I usually have good energy and attention. Making sure I take the time is my challenge here. (If you are having trouble paying attention while you are turning STOP, and do something else.) But with ugly tasks I have trouble with all three. I have a hard time concentrating. My energy feels drained. I run out of time so I’ll have to do them tomorrow. Ugly tasks are hard tasks.
Procrastination and Productivity
Everyone procrastinates to the detriment of their productivity. Anyone who says they don’t is lying. Why? Because we all have tasks that we just don’t want to do. We might procrastinate over different tasks but we all do.
We don’t like tasks because of 6 main reasons:
- Unstructured or ambiguous
- Lacking in personal meaning
- Lacking in intrinsic rewards
Okay, now we need a task that would be boring to a wood turner. I don’t mean turning a needle case either! How about organizing your receipts before you do your taxes? Whether you do your own books or send them out you have to get the receipts organized and identified.
- Boring – identifying if each receipt is for business; putting it in the right month. YUP.
- Frustrating – hard to read, what was it for, where was the receipt for my turning tools? YUP.
- Difficult – not really, unless you have to search the house for all of your receipts.
- Unstructured or ambiguous – was that meal a business expense or not, what did I buy at the hardware store? Not exactly a defined structure or a clear definition either. YUP.
- Lacking in personal meaning – I’m just doing this to figure out how much money I have to send the government. I don’t want penalties but this is not personally fulfilling. YUP.
- Lacking in intrinsic rewards – this is just not enjoyable. YUP.
Five out of six looks like procrastination time to me. How can we tip the scales in favor of doing this ugly task?
Can we change any of these 6 aspects of the task?
- Boring – put on some good music
- Frustrating – set a time limit (30 minutes for receipts / 30 minutes for a walk)
- Difficult – next year get a box or a drawer where all receipts will go
- Unstructured or Ambiguous – mark the business purpose on the receipt at the time you made the purchase (I know this is only good for next year).
- Personal meaning – plan on doing something fun once the chore is done, what’s the next turning project you would like to try?
- Intrinsic Rewards – Allocate $ 2.50 for every 15 minutes you spend sorting receipts (no dawdling). Spend it on an exotic piece of wood. (This is the author’s idea.)
Chris also had three more suggestions for dealing with procrastination and improving your productivity.
Create a procrastination List
Write down a list of high priority tasks that you will do in tandem with your procrastination task. That is, you need to get the ugly task done, so this is what you will do when it is finished. For my ugly task I set three hours to work on it each day. If it took longer, I would tackle it again the next day. That gave me a goal to reach and I wasn’t completely overwhelmed by trying to do the whole thing at once.
List the Costs
Take 5 to 10 minutes and write down the cost of putting off this task. I would call this cognitive therapy in that you are trying to convince yourself that you really need to get the task done. Besides procrastinating for another 10 minutes it might put it in a better perspective and help you persevere and finish the job. One of the biggest costs is not being able to do something else.
Just get started
Some tasks are too large to see finished at one go. Cleaning my workshop would fit into this category. I need to get out there and just get started. It probably won’t be as bad as I think, and if I get on a roll, I can keep working on it.
Remember to reward yourself when the job is done.
This book has a lot of useful information on productivity in your work, and in your life. For me the encouragement to deal with ugly tasks has been great. I completed one task last week and I’m going to start on a bigger one this week. Life is full of those tasks that we would rather not do. Well until I win the lottery (which will take a long time as I don’t buy lottery tickets!) I guess I’ll have to deal with these issues.
I give “The Productivity Project” a 5 out of 5 as a review. There are good practical suggestions to help you improve all aspects of your business and life. The attitude of the author is encouraging and practical at the same time. It is a book that I can highly recommend to you my woodturning friends.
What tasks are you facing and can you think of anyway of encouraging yourself to get on with the task and see it done? Even in woodworking the shop has to be cleaned, records have to be kept, and tools maintained. Let me know how you are doing.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.