“…I work better under stress…”
“…Nothin’ like a fire to get me going …”
You’ve probably heard these thousands of times from friends, family and co-workers. “If there is a deadline my brain clicks into overdrive and somehow I just get everything accomplished.”
And the sad truth about this behavior is that it actually becomes a habit. And unfortunately it is not the prettiest of habits.
What happens over time is that your brain becomes conditioned to the adrenaline to fuel it. And if there is anything we know about biology is that human body takes the past of least resistance. Hence if your body knows that it can “x” accomplished in “y” amount of time. Why add “z” to “y”. Over time your brain will continually test these limits and give yourself less and less time. And you can’t fault your brain for trying to perfect a working process.
The problem with this is that two things happen; neither of which are very good. You train yourself to be an adrenaline junkie so that you can’t get anything done without a fire being lit under your bum. And the work you do complete often is not a good as it could be if you had given yourself more time. Generally it is good enough, even passable but deep down you know you are capable of more.
Given that most of us learned these habits long ago .. how do we change them? The answer your productivity coach would give you is to start creating fake fires and deadlines to get non-urgent work done. Once you start accomplishing tasks and projects early you will learn the joy of getting stuff done early and you simultaneously be creating good work habits that don’t utilize drug lord amounts of adrenaline.
There are a lot of problems with that approach the most obvious being it just doesn’t work. Once a junkie … always a junkie. Is there rehab for folks like us.
The answer is a resounding yes. It is not easy. And unfortunately it is not as easy as picking up a Duraflame at the local hardware store.
What is the answer?
The big reveal:
The answer is to decide.
Yes, the first step is to decide that you will not use adrenaline to accomplish anything. You must mentally excise this from your tool box. As much as you love adrenaline you need to decide to replace with something else. That something else is planning. As much as you love the last minute rush of getting in all done in a moment you must train yourself to love the detailed minutiae of a good plan.
Let’s say you have paper to write for a class but first you need to read the book. You keep putting off for a party, a movie, hanging out with friends at that great bar, binge watching House of Cards. Anything to avoid the pain (ahem boredom of reading that book). I don’t need to write continue to write this little story because everyone knows how much caffeine is involved and how it ends.
What if you took a little different approach. What if you took that book and dissected it into small chunks. And I mean SMALL. What if you gave yourself the goal of reading 3 pages everyday. How many days would it take you to complete the book? I’m guessing not enough time. What if you amped it up a bit and read 3 pages in the morning and 3 pages in the evening. And if you need more juice dial it up to 5 pages in the morning and 5 pages in the evening. You get my drift. Create a time line with smallest goal on a daily basis.
The next step is even more difficult because this one involves keeping you honest. You now have to stick to your goal. The first couple of days are easy but what happens when you lose steam, when stuff comes up, when you are losing site of the goal and not seeing the fruits of your efforts?
This is where your artificial reward systems comes in handy. In kindergarten this was easily accomplished with a little gold star or a smiley face sticker. As we’ve matured these thinly veiled tactics are easily exposed and overlooked.
What is use instead? Money is the first answer for most and it makes sense. However who with any authority is going to enforce it? The IRS, your mortgage holder? Too easy to circumvent.
You have to create the rewards in your mind. Hogwash you say. So new age-y. blech. Unfortunately it is the truth. Create a mantra and recite it every time you achieve one of your mini goals.
The answer is the check mark. What? Huh? So dull, so not cutting edge. Train your brain to love making check marks. Create a list and use check marks when a task is complete. Set up time in your calendar every morning and afternoon to review your list.
For those of us that are artists and rebels the thought of scheduling something so mundane as a project review is nauseating. Unfortunately if you want to get started and get your dreams in motions you have to do some stuff that makes you feel like a corporate grind.
Hold your nose and enjoy the ride.