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You’d Get More Done If You Stopped Doing This
I was thinking about you guys while I was cleaning the bathrooms a few weeks ago.
(This’ll make sense in a minute.)
For reasons passing my understanding, the builder of my house decided to include 4 bathrooms. The house is not that big. I have no idea who would think it needed four toilets, but I’ll save my thoughts about excess for another time.
Anyway, I tend to clean all four bathrooms at once. It takes long enough to get my hair up, gloves on, cleaning stuff out, sponges wet, and then to put it all back when I’m done – that if I had to do that four separate times, I would go nuts. I’d rather just declare every other Tuesday “Bathroom Cleaning Night” and tackle them all.
So I’m jamming to George Ezra, scrubbing away, when I realize – I always work like this.
I like to work in long stretches on one single task. In every area of my life.
Some people would clean one bathroom at a time because it’d be less overwhelming. Others might do regular cursory wipe-downs as they go, and deep clean once every other month. All fine – I just prefer to marathon it.
Then I thought about my to-do lists.
For some reason I have it in my head that I should do a little bit of everything every day.
That the “good” thing to do would be to do a little reading, a little writing, a little web maintenance every single day. And if I did a little of each every day, everything would always be done, wrangled, sorted. Ahhh, that’d be magic!
Except this “a little every day” never works for me. When I try to just write for an hour every morning, I end up either writing for three hours or not at all. Then chastise myself severely for either a) not writing, or b) not leaving time for the other five things on my list.
And I realized shoot, with these lists, I’m trying to clean one bathroom at a time.
I’m just not good at switching tasks. The energy required to put something away and get something else out – even if only mentally – is HIGH for me.
But I CAN pay attention to one thing long past when most people would get bored. So why am I scheduling six different things every day? Why not schedule one thing per half day?
When I started doing that, my productivity doubled. And that’s a conservative estimate. I do one thing for a long time, and don’t think about it again until I have another chunk dedicated to that thing.
This brings me to you.
You might be the opposite from me.
You might get bored when you work on one thing for too long.
But maybe in college you saw other people studying for long marathons, and you had it in your head that “good” workers can just keep working. So you try, but run out of productivity juice.
But you make yourself sit there, even though all you’re doing is looking at Maru the cat videos, because sitting there is the right thing to do.
Or maybe you have some other way of working. The point is:
Are you trying to shoehorn your natural productive patterns into some idea of what you “should” do instead?
Have you ever asked yourself why?
I have a working theory that explains part of it:
I think we’re bumping up against social proof.
You know, social proof. The idea that when we aren’t sure how to do something, or whether something is “right,” we look at what others are doing. We all know that as business owners, adding testimonials from clients gives you that social proof of “hiring me is the right thing to do!”
But we underestimate how powerful and pervasive that concept really is. For us.
We absorbed a lot of rules from others a long time ago. Like when you showed up at college and saw the smart people studying all night. Or the cool people studying for an hour, heading out to three parties, then coming back to study for another hour (yes, I had friends who did that).
So we think man, THAT’S how to get stuff done!
But those ‘rules’ might not work for us, even if others following them were successful.
Sometimes we hold onto those ‘rules’ until they’re stale leftovers in the back of your mental fridge.
So today is the day, friends, that we are going to clean out the mental fridge.
Is there something that you want to do one way, but feel like you “should” do it another – and it’s just not working? But instead of changing, you just keep beating yourself up that you’re not doing it ‘right’?
It could be anything: Your work schedule, the things you write about on Instagram, the products you offer, the locations for your photoshoots, how you organize your office, how you go grocery shopping.
The next time you try to do something and your mind says “no, you should do this…” – especially when it results in unhappiness and getting less done –
I want you to stop and ask yourself – “Why?” Where is the should coming from?
Do you feel like it’s just the way it’s done? Did you see a cool or smart person you like do it that way? Did someone make you feel guilty for doing it your way?
You might surprise yourself with the answer.
(Another place to look for patterns: How do you work when it doesn’t “matter” and few people will see the end result? How do you write on social media when it’s just your own page? The way you tidy the bathroom might be the easiest way for you to maintain your blog. Just saying.)
Then: Just try it your way and see what happens. You can always go back to the way you did it before.
well that rings true, I do (have) tried to shoe horn the way I do things to how others do things, and I do spend too long watching cat videos (thanks for letting me know about Maru – that’ll really help :))
But seriously good ideas to try out, at least if I find a better way for me to do things, I can maybe spent less time (or more time – but productively doing what needs to be done.
I don’t have 4 toilets in the house, but there is still lots to do
Hahaha, I know, I’m a bad influence, right? (I did read some research once about how cat videos actually are de-stressing, so it’s not *totally* a waste…) 🙂
I hope you can find some things that work for you + shed ideas that might make working feel frustrating, annoying, or scary. Speaking of which if you do a search for “avoidance” on this site there are a couple things that I have a hunch you might find interesting – it’s a psych term for something that I myself deal with. Just a thought! Thanks David!
Excellent post as usual! Things just keep lining up right for me. First, I embarked on decluttering not just my house but my life via the KonMari method. Second, I’ve been documenting my journey via my blog. Third, I’ve been exercising more, which has helped my recent bout with depression. Why did I mention all this? Because I’ve noticed amazing changes since, and then this post comes along and helps tie things together even more. ? Gotta love perfect timing! Thanks again for providing such great content! Definitely bookmarking this since I’m relearning the right way of doing things instead if what I should be doing. ?
I love it all, Claudia! It’s awesome when the universe brings us truths we need to hear in the right timing. Keep going!
This is so me! Great post.
Thank you for the extremely good post which comes just at the right time. It’s only been a matter of a couple of weeks where I haven’t tried to do bits of things (sometimes all at once) – like most solopreneurs I have a lot of ideas which I need to immediately get on the table and end up just continuously writing lists of all I have to do, instead of actually doing them. I now do one thing at a time and because I’m concentrating on this one thing, I don’t give myself a deadline, but persevere for as long as it takes. After I’ve completed the task at hand I reward myself which a simple task like cleaning the bath 😉
Oh my goodness Dawn, I do the same thing! Writing EPIC to-do lists and then just feeling too swamped to do anything. I’m going to give the marathon style a try, too. I just want to feel accomplished again!
Brilliant advice as usual, thank you and thank you for introducing me to George Ezra, he’s fab 🙂
This is really validating. I keep reading and hearing about how I “should” be approaching marketing and I just don’t want to do it that way. It makes me feel …well, icky–a bit slimy. That’s just not me. I haven’t had any help and have struggled since I started my business to figure out how to make it work MY way. I think I’m just on the point of getting there but it’s hard. It means sharing myself and that’s hard for me. Anyway, thanks for this post!
A lot of people feel similarly to you. (There are lots of posts here about marketing without feeling pushy – search away, hope they help too). You can find things that work for you! I’ve found that the best things nudge me a little out of my comfort zone while still feeling true to my values.
I have been a silent, hiding-behind-the-curtain reader of your blog for over a year. You are a brilliant writer! I am not a photographer, but I am a small business owner with a penchant for psychology. I just love how you write and I am always inspired after reading your posts. Today was no exception.
I am always beating myself up because I don’t work in the same way as my very impressive and hard working husband. He is seriously a productivity machine! He has figured out how to work well, and I am always comparing myself to that.
So, this post was very eye opening, and I am going to spend some time today “cleaning out my mental fridge” so I can learn how to be productive on my terms.
Well hello there Vanessa, and you are most welcome here! Thanks for the kind words and yes, I hope you’re able to examine yourself and find the best rhythms that work for you! The most productive people I know do have good habits but they also know themselves well and which of the many productive habits work for them. Take care!!
How very true! thank you for this! I also prefer to work for longer on a task, I need to listen to that more! I enjoyed it (just this once) when I sat down and wrote & scheduled 4 facebook posts in one go, much more than thinking about sitting down every 3-4 days to do it for 5 minutes! Why did I not do it again? Well, I will. Thank you Jenika!
Yesssss….every few days for 5 minutes, for me, is like poking bike tires with tiny holes, I can’t deal with time leaking everywhere…cool if it works for others though. Good for you for getting things done in the way that works for you!
Oh my goodness, this is so me! I am a marathoner – once I pick something up, I can’t put it down and nothing else on my list gets done that day.
I keep reading all this stuff about “give yourself an hour for this, hour for that” and I think: man, I’ll never get the hang of this!
Thanks for giving me permission to do one task all day until it’s done. That’s what works for me, so why fight it?
Good for you, fellow marathoner! It’s a real strength you have and I hope you have FUN figuring out how to take advantage of it!
I love this article because back when I had a day job, I had a boss who got after me because I would usually spend most of the day working on one particular task until I got it done and then I would move onto the next task but my boss said that I needed to work on a little bit of everything every day. So I did it my bosses way because that’s what you do when you have a boss. And it always felt so inefficient to me. Since then I’ve thought about that incident a lot (yeah, it’s been seven years and I need to move on with my life, but it really bothered me) and most of the time I felt like my way of doing it was right, but I sometimes wondered if maybe I was wrong since my boss seem to think he was right. Now I know that we both were right for ourselves. Too bad my boss didn’t know that at the time.