Productivity, Procrastination and Choice


Productivity. Hey, don’t run away, come back here. Yes, it’s a word that’s become four-letter for some. Am I going to write yet another of a bazillion articles out there which gives you the “how to be more productive” or “how to increase your productivity” speech? Nope. Because nobody can make you do something you don’t want to do. Well, nobody who’s not holding a gun to your head or blackmailing you in some way. Certainly I’m not going to get you to do something you don’t want to do.

So what am I going to talk with you about then? Well, from my life experience I have discovered that in order to be productive, I have to be facing the doing of something that I want to do. If it’s something I don’t want to do, too-bad-so-sad it ain’t gonna happen no matter how much I or anyone around me tells myself it must. Or if it does happen, what I produce won’t be nearly as good as it would’ve had I been enjoying myself. If I’m not being productive it’s because I don’t wanna do the thing. If I don’t wanna do the thing I procrastinate.

Uh-oh…another P word: procrastination. Sigh. Yes. They are related, sadly. Because if you’re being productive, that means you’re not procrastinating! *insert imaginary surprised face emoji*

For example, I hate housecleaning because as the eldest (and only non-biological) of three children, I was a literal Cinderella – forced to do all the housecleaning, dishes, laundry, etc. whilst my two stepbrothers had to do a sum total of nothing. I even did all the gardening and yard work once I was big enough to push the lawnmower. My point isn’t to have you go, “Wow, your parents were jerks.” My point is I am now 46 years old and still hate housecleaning because of my childhood. So I don’t do it.

Until I want to.

Wait, what? What the heck could make someone with a lifelong hatred of housecleaning (for good reason, mind you) want to clean the house? It’s simple: I let it go until I can’t stand it anymore and then I want to clean it so I do. Examples:

  • My bare feet get too filthy or I find myself stepping on too many “yucky things” (like food crumbs or cat litter) so I decide I want to vacuum and sometimes even mop (the horror!)
  • want to do laundry so I don’t have to wear dirty underthings to work tomorrow
  • I’m tired of seeing the spot/stain on the floor/counter so I clean it
  • My bathroom or bedroom has started to smell. I have an oversensitive nose, actually, so stench will get me to clean faster than anything visual or otherwise physical. Make it stink and you’ve got a cleaner ready to go in me.
  • The idea of dust mites and those little micro things that eat dead human skin cells gross me out so I automatically wash my bedsheets regularly
  • Living in Hawaii equates to easy mildewing, so that also encourages me to clean things more regularly because mildewwwwwww

The list goes on. So if I can take the thing I most detest doing in all the world (well, except perhaps for giving birth naturally, which I have done…twice…which is why I detest it…) and do it because I want to – hence becoming productive on the home front by eliminating procrastination – surely you can take something you don’t hate nearly as much as housecleaning and find a reason to want to do it. Right?

Wrong. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face (or red, since that’s my favorite color): we are not all the same. Ergo, what works to motivate me may not work to motivate you. ‘Tis a fact.

Another fact: if you don’t want to do the thing, perhaps what you need to be putting your mind to is why you’re feeling you “have to” do it to begin with rather than trying to psych yourself into doing it. Solve the right problem. Which: the problem isn’t the thing that needs to be done, it’s that you don’t want to do it and there’s a reason why you don’t want to do it. Some examples:

  • I had committed to writing a story for a group I’m a part of, for a challenge they were having. No matter how many times I tried to start writing the story, I could not make myself do it. Now, in the end I had to do it because I am one to honor my promises. It wasn’t all that great, it certainly wasn’t my best and I was annoyed having to spend time on that rather than what I really wanted to spend my time on. But what I realized as part of this process was that I was no longer interested in writing stories for this particular group/fandom. So…I told my compatriot that I just wasn’t into it anymore and wouldn’t be committing in the future. Being honest is sometimes really difficult, especially if you’re afraid of a) how it’ll make you look to other people, or b) hurting others’ feelings. In my case it worked out because she understood, didn’t bust my chops and appreciated my honesty. I wasn’t productive in my writing because I procrastinated doing it because I didn’t wanna do that kind of writing anymore. I kept my promise and then made sure I wouldn’t have to do it again. Booyah.
  • A workplace of mine had become increasingly unpalatable to me for ethical and directional reasons. Yet I kept persisting at trying to be a dutiful, loyal employee there because I felt obligated to them for having gotten me to a place I’d always wanted to be. However, as the days and weeks progressed I found certain peoples’ actions intolerable to the point where I went home after work one day and had a meltdown because my employer had become something that was quite literally in direct conflict with who and what I am at the core of my being. Once I verbalized my issues with the place, and admitted that I no longer felt loyalty (and felt badly about that in spite of the horrendous things the company was doing), I basically came to terms with the fact that – like many peoples’ marriages, I guess – my employer and I were no longer compatible for a variety of reasons. So I started looking for other ways to make money, and for new employers, as a solution to this problem that was eating me up inside every single workday. I wasn’t productive at work because I hated it because it was no longer aligning with my internals. I fixed that. Booyah. Now I’m productive at work and don’t procrastinate doing it.
  • At work there was a project I was given (as a project manager) in which there was an extremely difficult, non-performing vendor I had to have a complex and uncomfortable conversation with. I did not want to have this confrontation with their account manager because I prefer to avoid conflict (as a lot of people do). My preference is kindness. Quietness. Gentleness. I want to help, not hurt. I want to encourage harmony, not create discord. However, I had no choice in this case but to confront this vendor with all the things they weren’t doing, or were doing incorrectly, on behalf of the company I worked for and the project I was managing. After a while of thinking about how to do this, I reframed it. Rather than view the call as a confrontational conversation, I changed how I thought about it and focused internally on solutions moving forward. Because though I didn’t want the conversation, I did want my life to be made easier by having a more helpful vendor who treated us better, so I had everything to gain by keeping that in mind. Yes, I was prepared to defend my company and to point out where the vendor’s staff had been lying about what’d actually happened. But I kept veering the conversation back to what I (and my company) wanted from this vendor from that moment forward, to rectify the situation and repair the wounded relationship. Guess what? It worked. The account manager and I wound up getting along very well, agreeing on a great many points, and came up with positive steps for moving forward. I wasn’t productive on this project because the vendor and I weren’t on the same page because there was all this he said/she said finger-pointing because nobody was having open and honest dialogue. I fixed that. Booyah. Now the project is being productive and I no longer procrastinate on anything to do with it or the vendor.

Those are just examples from my own life. The fact of the matter is that until I want to do something I won’t do it. Or, in the case of something I do because I have determined I “have to,” like my first example, I go ahead and do it but then ensure I won’t have to ever again. (Until the next time the writing bug bites me and I decide to give it a go.)

You may be thinking of something in your life that you dread doing and saying out loud (or thinking), “Well, I can’t say no. I can’t not do the thing. I must. I have no choice.”

Um…actually, you do have a choice. We all do. I recently read an article in which the author said there’s no such thing as free will because we always have to deal with the consequences of whatever decision we make. That’s paraphrased. But highly accurate! There is always a choice. And we are free to make whatever choice we want to. It’s just that we may not want to deal with the consequences of choosing, or may decide that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. Yes, I totally stole that from Star Trek’s Spock.

For example, you don’t want to go out on another date with Person A because you really don’t feel as though you and they will be compatible long-term. But because you don’t want to look them in the eyes and say no, sorry, not working for me, you keep agreeing to go out with them. Which means you’re stringing them along. Which means they think you really like them. Which oh, dear, could lead to even worse hurt feelings if you let it go too long. But cutting the relationship off after the second date is truly less painful for both parties than waiting until Person A proposes to you. What do you say then? No? How will that make them feel vs. two dates in you just saying, sorry, I’m moving on? So you agree to marry someone you don’t actually want to marry? How is this a good thing? (Hint: it’s not.)

Special Note: If you’re afraid the person will physically harm you if you try to break up with them, then that’s a whole other ballgame and you need to get some professional help (think: counselor, police, trusted friend/other adult who can actually assist you in getting out of a dangerous situation).

Maybe you have a situation at work that’s making you hate your job. But you can’t leave your job because you need the money. Or you want to keep your tenure for retirement reasons. Or it’s your family’s company and they’ll disown you if you quit. Or you need the health care. Whatever your reasons are, I’m not saying they aren’t legitimate, I’m saying you still have a choice. If your family will disown you for leaving, what does that mean for you? Is it worth you being miserable in your job for the rest of your working life to maintain good standing within your family? For some, the answer is yes. For others, they might decide the answer is no…that they’re willing to put up with family b.s. in order to ultimately get a job that’ll make them happier.

What about health care? What about a paycheck? The trick is to stop thinking “I can’t because” and start figuring out what ELSE you can do to bring in the dough and afford health care. Reframe it in your mind until it stops being “I have to keep this job” and starts being “I’m going to start my own side hustle to get me out of this job.”

See what I mean?

There are so many possible examples of this that we could be here for the next week coming up with them. But I want to pull focus back to what I started out with: procrastination which leads to a lack of productivity. If you find that you must do the thing you don’t want to do – because you choose to, because you made a promise and you keep your promises or because some law says you have to – then try reframing whatever it is to make it be something you actually do want to do.

Tell yourself little white lies if you must – like you’ll get ringworm if you don’t clean your shower right the heck now. Grin. Or without lying, remind yourself why you agreed to do the thing to begin with, why you made the promise, why you aren’t willing to tell your boss or spouse or friend ‘no’ to whatever the thing is. Maybe you have to confront your son’s schoolmate’s mother over the fact that her son is bullying yours on the playground. You’d do that for your kid, right? To prevent him from one day committing suicide because he’s getting bullied at school and nobody helped? You bet your hiney you would. Well, why would you face down something uncomfortable for your son’s best interests but not for your own self’s?

Food for thought.

In the end, if you decide that you are not willing to do the thing, then eliminate having to do it from your world.

(Note: I am not advocating offing your boss or anyone else…I watch too many shows about murders because I like real life whodunits…don’t do something stupid like that, though, and then blame me for telling you to get rid of things you don’t like…)

“So what is it you’re telling me to do?”

Simple: you have two choices. (See, I told you that you always have a choice!) Either you do the thing or you don’t do the thing. Not wanting to do the thing is what causes procrastination (and procrastination leads to lack of productivity, repeat after me…) So think about why you don’t want to do it. And then decide to solve that problem…or not. Because nobody can make these decisions for you. Nobody can live your life. Nobody else can do the thing (or if they can, why aren’t you asking them to do it instead of you feeling like you have to?..hello…).

Side Note: Getting sidetracked on Facebook isn’t about procrastinating (unless you’re doing it on purpose to avoid Thing B). Social media addictions are like alcohol addictions and need to be dealt with on that level. If you “can’t” stop looking at your Facebook feed or playing Farmville or World of Warcraft or Second Life, then you don’t have a procrastination problem, you have an addiction and that’s a completely different roadmap. Here is a place to start, and no, I’m not affiliated with them in any way.

Here’s a graphic to help walk you through my concept of having two choices…follow the arrows like a pathway:

Uh-oh, wait a minute. There’s something in that graphic that you didn’t talk about! (you yell at me, complete with accusatorily pointing finger)

But I did mention it already, you just didn’t want to see it. It’s CONSEQUENCES!!!!

So…the thing you don’t want to do. If you don’t do it, there are consequences. Like, not wanting to take a shower for a week means you get fired from your job at a perfume counter for being a stinkpot, or your spouse banishes you to the couch (or possibly the basement). You get the idea. If you’re totally okay with the consequences of not showering for a week, then by all means, go for it. (Just stay away from me and my oversensitive nose, please.)

Just like that little roadmap photo above shows, if you decide you don’t want to do the thing, and even if you figure out why and the why is totally legit, that doesn’t mean you can or should stop doing the thing immediately without any consideration for what might, could, should or needs to happen. Here’s a case study:

Your boss mistreats you, overworks you and is in general a beast to deal with. At 4:45pm Friday (your quitting time is 5pm) he hands you a project which will take you about six hours of intensely staring at the computer to complete and says he wants it at 8am Monday. You had plans for this weekend to go camping with your whole family. You’re supposed to be leaving in an hour for the campgrounds.

What do you do? Do you nod and grit your teeth and say okay and then set about disappointing your family by not being able to make the camping trip? Perhaps you stay late tonight and complete it, telling your family you will join them at the campsite tomorrow. Perhaps you take your laptop with you to work on the project after the children are asleep in their tents. Or do you decide enough is enough and your overly demanding boss/job isn’t going to intrude on your personal/happy/family time yet again so you tell him you can’t? And then you get fired, or written up, or verbally berated or demoted.

You feel as though you can’t win. The consequences of saying yes to your boss could be family/personal life problems. The consequences of saying no to your boss might have financial ramifications for you and those you support. Or have a negative impact on your career. Then there’s creative thinking, like the possibilities I mentioned of taking your laptop with you and working on the report over the weekend after the children are asleep (assuming your spouse will let you get away with that) or working on it tonight and meeting your family there tomorrow. Still, that’s encroaching on your personal time (something I personally find unacceptable).

What does any of this have to do with procrastination, you ask, or possibly with productivity? Well, what if I told you that in this case study the whole problem with this job to begin with was that you have been meaning to look for a new job for the past six or twelve months because ever since your new boss started, things have gone steadily downhill? The fact that you put that off – for whatever your reasons were/are – has now led to this scenario where you’re pretty much in a no-win situation with your family and your job. So now to be productive you will also have to a) be in trouble and b) be unhappy.

That’s the final point I want to make here: if you are not being productive because you are procrastinating, there will be consequences to the procrastination itself, even if right now you cannot fathom what those might be. In the short-term you may have to make some uncomfortable decisions, or you may have to do the thing right now and then figure out how to keep from having to do it in the future. In the long-term you may wind up disappointing someone (yourself, possibly). You may also find that reality isn’t as bad as your fears were leading you to worry about, like my compatriot who was totally fine with me not committing to further story submissions for writing challenges.

Or you may find that if you reframe the situation into something you do want – like me knowing that having a difficult conversation could lead to me having an easier time of it managing that project – you are able to do the thing you’d been putting off and then boom, it’s done, it’s a weight off your shoulders and you move on.

There is no right or wrong way to handle procrastination. And while you can theoretically force yourself to do something you don’t want to do, you may not get the best results all the time, because if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing then where’s the impetus to do it well? Sure, you can produce a ton of widgets (thereby being productive) even when unmotivated or unhappy, but chances are you’ll just rush through it to get it done regardless of how shoddy the result is and then who wins? No one.

The solution to being productive is not to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do. It’s to want to do the items on your To Do list so that when you undertake the task, process or project you are highly productive, engaged and happy to be doing it. It’s up to you: either decide you do want to do it and git ‘er done, or that you don’t want to do it and you then find a way to not have to.

For those who don’t want to work, there’s always the marry-a-billionaire option…

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