I was speaking with my friend and mentor George Pransky once about productivity – what it is that causes us to get more (or less) “bang for the buck” out of everything we do. One of the observations that came up was that people are generally at their most productive in the parts of their work where they like what they do and least productive in the parts of a job or project that they dislike, resent, or even hate. In fact, one study into people who had been at or near the top of their field for a minimum of twenty years showed that the one thing they all had in common was that they had figured out what they didn’t like doing and stopped doing it.
But what if outsourcing the things. you’ve been avoiding doing isn’t a viable choice?
If you can’t afford (or don’t want) to get someone else to do the bits of your work you don’t like doing, you probably do what most people do – procrastinate for as long as you possibly can, and then when your really have to do it, you get it over with in the least painful and quickest way you can think of. For example, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, reportedly hated firing people so much that the only way they could do it was by thinking of their business as a monster. Before getting rid of a slow-scooping employee, they would go in the back of their restaurant and chant “the monster is hungry; the monster must eat”. Then they would begin to growl until they generated sufficient confidence to go out front and send their soon to be ex-employee packing.
While “getting it over with” is certainly more productive than never getting to something in the first place, it’s certainly not an efficient long-term strategy. And things done with a white-knuckle “just gotta’ get through it” frame of mind rarely go as well as they could. So what’s the alternative?
Simple. Begin to like everything you do.
Now at first glance, this seems to be a patently ridiculous idea. After all, how do I make myself enjoy catching up on a backlog of email, making cold calls, asking the bank for money, or whatever part of my work I think of as a “necessarily evil”? But what we like and dislike – i.e. our preferences – are not written in stone. In fact, most of them are the somewhat arbitrary result of childhood incidents, cultural conditioning, and psychological reinforcement.
As a girl, my wife was forced to drink warm milk that had been sitting in the sun in the school yard and it made her physically ill. That experience was passed on to our kids, who grew up hating milk without ever really having tried it. But in my house, we grew up enjoying milk in our breakfast cereal, milk with our after-school snacks, and a glass of milk with our dinner. And my sister’s adult children still drink milk every day. The point, of course, isn’t whether or not people should drink milk – it’s that so much of what we like or don’t like is based on limited or even second-hand experience, perpetuated unwittingly by the thought that “I don’t like that”.
I’ll share a couple of real-life examples in part two, but for today, ponder this:
If you’re avoiding something on your list because you think you won’t like doing it, are you willing to let go of your best guess and find out for yourself?
Have fun, learn heaps, and I’ll be back with part two tomorrow!
With all my love,