DO ALL THE THINGS

Are there too many things to do, or is it just that we (or I, at least) have an overriding need to do ALL THE THINGS and – here’s the real problem – do them ALL AT ONCE, NOW?

Everything we do, we do in stages.  Even something as simple as making a cup of tea involves a whole series of steps, from getting up off the chair to filling the kettle, switching it on, and so on.

So when we’re starting a new venture, or simply trying to get done all the things that we’re committed to doing, let’s remember that we can’t do them all at once.  We can only do them one step at a time.

No prizes for guessing who this post is written for.  You, my reader, of course, but mostly as a reminder to myself that I can’t do all the things all at once!

Procrastination and getting things done

So, you have a beautiful List of Things To Do.  Or just one big Thing To Do.  Everything is organised; the only thing left is to actually do the things.

So you make a cup of tea, feed the rabbit, get distracted and end up doing something which never even made it onto the list.  It’s not just me, is it?

The conventional advice often seems to be to jump in and do the hard thing first – get the worst of it over with.  (Rather like eating your beetroot first and saving the yummy buttery mashed potato until last.  Or maybe that’s just me too?)  Then everything else will seem easy.

Except it doesn’t always work.  When the boy and I were discussing homework yesterday (before it escalated into a shouting match – that’s a story for another day), we agreed that we both work with a different strategy, one that works better for us.

It’s this: do the easiest thing first, or the thing that you most like the look of, or the thing that will take the shortest time.  That way, you’re on a roll and are more likely to continue onto the next thing and the next, rather than heaving a huge sigh of relief after the hard thing and going and making yet another cup of tea in celebration.  (You may eventually end up with a pile of ‘nasty’ things to do once you’ve picked off the best ones.  But somehow they look less daunting when you’ve already proved to yourself that you can get things done.

I reckon it often doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something.  Action begets action, and eventually you’ll get to the thing you’ve been putting off – and I bet it won’t seem half as bad by then.

Begin

You only have to do one thing at a time.  In fact, you can only do one thing at a time.  (That thing you call multi-tasking?  It’s just switching between several things very fast and not properly concentrating on any of them.  Ask me how I know.)

So there’s a big thing you need to do?  A job you can’t imagine how you’re going to finish (or even start)?  Something you said ‘yes’ to before you worked out how you were going to do it?  Good, welcome to the freelance world.  Say yes first, work out the details later.

In fact, the best way to work out the details is to do the thinking as you go along.  Begin.  Open the file, take out your pen, pick up the phone – there must be one thing you can do.  Write one word.  Read one document.  Then do the next thing.

Sometimes simply beginning is the hardest part.  And the only way to get over that is to do it.  Quick, before you come up with another excuse to put it off!

Motivation or habit?

It seems to be generally accepted that we need motivation to work from home, yet we assume that having a job outside the home – what?  Doesn’t require motivation?  Is intrinsically motivating?  Just requires you to turn up, motivated or not?

Of the motivation tips I’ve written, I’d say the first is the most important for home workers: remember why you’re doing what you do.  Whether you’re reaching towards something (“I want to change the world”) or leaning away from something (“I’m not leaving my son in nursery again”), it can help to get you over any humps you meet in the home working road. After all, the definition of motivation is: the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way / the general desire or willingness someone has to do something.

Knowing your reason for soldiering on is important.  But what about the days when your lofty (or not so lofty) goal doesn’t seem to help?  I wonder what we can learn from those who go out to work…

What makes an employee get out of bed and go out to work every day?  Habit, the ruler of most of our days, probably plays a large part: this is what I do every day.  Habits stop you having to think.

I take the boy to school, I come home, I make tea, I sit at my desk.  That’s the first part of the habit.

The trick, of course, is in not stopping there.  I can sit at the desk and read blogs, stare out of the window, doodle, move bits of paper around, or do any number of things which don’t get the work done.  The next part of the habit is to actually begin working.  Radical, eh?

Ernest Hemingway said “The best way [to write] is always to stop when you […] know what will happen next. If you do that every day…you will never be stuck.”  Knowing – planning – what will happen next is a mindset that helps with any kind of work.  If you plan ahead of time what you’re going to do when you sit down in the morning, you have fewer excuses for not doing it.

Building a planning habit will help to build a working habit.  Motivation sits in the background, but we also need to cultivate the habit of doing.

Not because it’s January

wet January walk4

I didn’t exercise because it was January, or because I should, or for the good of my health and waistline.  I did it because of Tuesday.

Tuesday was Back to School Day in these parts.  Tuesday was going to be the Day I Got Things Done.  I had been looking forward to Tuesday.  In reality, Tuesday was a succession of tasks I didn’t enjoy (accounts, anyone?) interspersed with ‘shoulds’ and a complete lack of motivation and inspiration.  Tuesday was miserable, and so was I.

Tuesday is also the day of my weekly exercise class.  I almost didn’t make it off the sofa, but habit (and guilt because the husband had come home early to be Daddy in Charge so I could go out) got me there in the end.  It was hard work after several weeks off, and I still can’t walk up or down stairs without wincing and complaining loudly, but that hour of sweating and gasping for breath seemed to flick a switch in my brain.

I was back.  I had perspective.  I could even laugh.  All was not lost.  Tuesday was just Tuesday, not the end of all hope.

So when today came, and January did what January does best (see photo above and add wind and rain), I knew there was only one thing for it.  The only way to get any work done was to dig out the wellies, get outside, and get moving, first.  Stagnation only happens if you stay in one place.  Move the body and the brain will follow.  Exercise isn’t a ‘should’.  It’s a ‘want to’.