I was looking at my calendar today and it occurred to me that there are some tasks I assign myself that I really don’t want to do. You could call it simple procrastination, but I began to wonder why we all sometimes willingly take on projects that really don’t thrill us; consequently, we end up procrastinating or simply defaulting on the task. I’ve come up with five reasons I believe that I (and probably you) do this and some ways to overcome these obstacles to personal productivity and fulfillment.
- The problem: Feelings of inadequacy. This may be especially common if it’s a task that requires us to stretch our abilities. We worry that we’ll fail or look like fools. We’re not sure we have the skills or the smarts to successfully complete the task.
The solution: We can take several steps to overcome these unjustified feelings of inadequacy. First, review past successes and confirm your ability to perform at the required level. Second, acquire whatever tools or skills we need to complete the task. Third, break the task down into smaller steps and tackle them one by one.
- The problem: Lack of interest. We don’t want to do it and can’t figure out why we ever thought we wanted to do it.
The solution: Decide if the task is important enough that it should be completed. If it’s not, take if off the to-do list and never think about it again. If it does have some value consider these options: 1) delegate it to someone else; 2) hire a sub-contractor; 3) find a way to automate the task so you have to deal with it less often; 4) barter with someone—you take on one of her tasks and she takes on one of yours.
- The problem: Misplaced priorities. We know we need to do the task; we know the project is important; we want to complete it. However, we keep finding other things that siphon away our fixed hours in a day, and the task just sits there on our to-do list staring up at us waiting for us to get it done.
The solution: Setting milestones works wonders for keeping your priorities on track; give yourself deadlines and work toward them on a daily basis. I find that setting timers on my phone to remind me when it’s time to work on particular tasks is helpful, but you can use any method that keeps you focused on what’s important at that moment.
- The problem: Unrealistic expectations. Despite my love of the Alicia Keys song “Superwoman,” that fact is I can only do so many jobs in a day. It’s so tempting to look at our calendars and start scheduling ourselves from morning to night with all kinds of interesting activities. And then it’s too bad we end up procrastinating and making excuses when we can’t meet all those obligations.
The solution: Schedule the mundane first. Yep, I said it. Schedule the cooking, the cleaning, the bathing, the dog walking, the date night, the dinner hour, and every other common, but oh-so important activity first. Once we have a grip on how much “real” time we have for all those other interesting tasks we’ll be less likely to jam them into our calendars only to put them off when we’re overwhelmed.
- The problem: Saying yes when we should say no. This issue is last, but it could be first because I believe it is often the root cause of all four preceding problems: 1) We feel inadequate because we say yes when we know we aren’t really up to the task. 2) We lack interest because we say yes out of politeness instead of interest. 3) We get our priorities out of whack by by saying yes to Angry Birds instead of working on that project. 4) And we set unrealistic expectations when we say yes to every promising activity that crosses our paths.
The solution: It’s a simple solution that can be maddeningly difficult to implement; say NO. I’m learning to love those two letters strung together in such a simple, single-syllable utterance. NO. The thing with NO is that it need not be followed by an explanation of why we aren’t the right person or not interested, why it’s not a priority or doesn’t fit into our schedule. Of course, given the scarcity of NOs many people may look surprised and expect an explanation. My favorite reply is simply, “Not at this time.” Who knows? Things could change but right now the answer is NO.
Next time you look at your calendar or to-do list and cringe at some of those items you keep putting off, think about these five reasons why you might feel that way and then take steps to defeat the problems keeping you from excelling at the things your were designed to do.
I was looking forward to reading Ferenc Máté’s new book, The Wisdom of Tuscany: Simplicity, Security & the Good Life–Making the Tuscan lifestyle you own. I have had a copy of his A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existence on my bookshelf for many years. I had hoped that Wisdom of Tuscany would be an updated commentary, reflective of the current state of the world. Máté does try to make the book current; however, it is flawed on several fronts.
First, I’m not sure if W.W. Norton does not employ editors at its Albatross imprint or if the editors simply failed to do their jobs. Perhaps, in an attempt to write and include material that reflected events current at the time of the book’s publishing, editing was simply skipped. I don’t know, but I almost didn’t get past the first two chapters. The errors are numerous. For example, this begins the first paragraph on page 19:
Siena’s municipal hall. has a delicate tower that surveys the countryside.
Yes, there is a stray period between hall and has. I don’t expect a book to be 100% error free. But this kind of problem is rampant throughout the entire text.
Second, Máté has lived in Tuscany for 20 years. I fully expect him to tell me about Tuscan life and what it has to teach us about a simpler, more fulfilling way to live. Unfortunately, he often refers to “we” when talking about those of us living in North America. This strikes me as presumptuous. If you haven’t lived here in 20 years, then you cannot make comments about the culture in the first person. You can make comments based on your observations, but not as if you are here living it alongside us. I, for example, grew up in South Carolina, but I have not lived there in 20 years. I can no longer say “we” when referring to anything that happens in South Carolina. I may comment on what I see in the news or what friends or family tell me, but I cannot relate firsthand, first person experience of the culture.
Third, although the book sets out to tell us about making the Tuscan lifestyle our own, it never quite gets there. Máté relates many stories from his life in Tuscany, these are informative and instructive. However, not until the end of the book does he begin to address how to incorporate these ideas into our American lifestyles. The one ten-page-long chapter simply fails to provide any useful details.
Fourth, Máté fails to acknowledge that few people have the resources to pick up and move to the country and start a new life. In addition, plenty of folks, myself included, have no desire to live in the country. That doesn’t mean I can’t find a way to live a good, simple life.
Fifth, it’s true that North Americans could stand to put down their electronic gadgets and spend a bit more time actually talking with family and friends. But if you listen to Máté, every family on the continent is totally fractured. This is too great a generality and certainly does not reflect my own experience of family.
Finally, while Reasonable Life often referred to research and data that helped Máté make his points, Wisdom of Tuscany is filled with too many of Máté’s opinions without the data to back them up. He has a feeling something is wrong and a Tuscan-inspired lifestyle could right that wrong. Unfortunately, his hunches alone don’t provide us with the details we need to adopt that lifestyle.
I still heartily recommend Reasonable Life to anyone seeking a more authentic way to live. I cannot recommend Wisdom of Tuscany. Instead, read Stephanie Mill’s Epicurean Simplicity for a much more inspiring, North American take on simple living.
I was talking with a friend about how the downturn in the stock market was impacting people who have built up wealth mainly via relying on their (seemingly) every-growing portfolio of investments. I commented that people who choose to live simply are essentially unaffected by such a troubling market. Choosing a life a voluntary simplicity means you’ve already chosen to live humbly below your means. You don’t rely on phantom dollars. You rely on concrete calculations of income and expenditures. Your income is diversified and so are your savings. And lo and behold on the heels of this conversation I find this article in the 2009 March-April Simple Living News: Recession-Proof: Voluntary Simplicity As The Key To Living Well Even In A Recession. The author closes the article with this comment:
I think Henry David Thoreau summed up the key to living recession-proof when he said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
How true that is. The more we leave alone, the more we can enjoy the truly valuable things in life.
Frugal – economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful
Voluntary Simplicity – a lifestyle that is less pressured due to a focus away from accumulation of goods and more toward non-material aspects of life
I recently unsubbed from a Yahoo! group whose purpose was to discuss frugal living specifically for people who don’t have children at home. It started out a good group. Unfortunately, one particular member hijacked the group and turned it into a whine-fest about lack of funds and how expensive everything is getting. I’m just not interested in that sort of negative discussion.
I believe in being frugal and I believe in voluntary simplicity as a lifestyle. However, I hold these values by choice, not because there’s not enough money to buy groceries or pay the mortgage. Frugality and simplicity have nothing to do with poverty. You could be on that Forbes 400 list of the richest people and choose to live a frugal, simple life. There’s a big difference in choosing frugality and being forced into frugality. The first is a freeing lifestyle choice. The second is a prison of want.
Definitions from Dictionary.com