Work Easy, Play Often

I came across a post for authors about how to stay motivated, and the central comparison was, “A writing session is like going to spin class. You put it on the schedule, you dread it, you think about bailing, you hate it while it’s happening, but then you feel so good when it’s over. You just need discipline and aggressive commitment to your goals, and your book will get written.”

This kind of thinking maketh me to curse. First, creativity has its own schedule. I could go to court on Thursdays and know which cases were on my docket, but writing a book isn’t like that for most authors I know. Relationships aren’t like that. Tending a home isn’t like that. So much of what’s important in life refuses to yield to linear,assembly line thinking.

Second, I feel like crap after a workout. Mean, resentful, ugly, exhausted crap. Always have, which makes sense to me, and I often feel even worse the next day.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we aren’t meant to sit on our butts for eight hours, then hustle to the gym and impersonate an Olympic hopeful. If longevity and quality of longevity are the goals, we are far better off going for four fifteen minute walks in the middle of our work day, stretching before we get dressed, keeping hand weights where we’ll use them throughout the day, and doing some yard work in the evening.

In other words, the hunter-gatherers had it right. Nobody ever outran a cheetah.

Athletes, I am convinced, simply find joy in the exertion. They do not dread spin class–most days, they love it. My former husband (the ultra-marathoner) was very clear that his long runs–10 to 20 miles–were mood-altering as he was running. When he got home and showered off, he crashed both emotionally and physically.

But more to the point, the people who study will power and high achievement tell us that delayed gratification is a lousy motivator. Folks who can stick to a task over the long term have cracked a couple codes, and neither of them is unrelenting self-discipline. The first code they crack is how to find joy and pleasure in the task itself, how to build in micro-rewards rather than simply, “It feels so good when it stops,” rewards. Sometimes the pleasure is an organic gift–my former spouse loved to run, I love to write. Sometimes lacing in the reward means bundling a joy with a chore, sometimes it means focusing on the happy parts first, last, and most often.

Snitch some dough, arrange the floral centerpiece first, always queue up the playlist before attempting housework. Add the joy at the start and find it along the way, don’t expect yourself to slog away for days or years before you see a payoff.

The second code most highly “motivated” people crack is how to make it easy to go straight to the desired task. They don’t have tremendous willpower, but they are good at structuring the environment–from social relationships, to physical surroundings, to activity sequences–so the path to the task is simple and short. Their phones are set up to let people know, “I’m meditating now. Will get back to you later today!” or, their running shoes and socks are on the floor on the side of the bed they get up on.

They think systemically, and design a strategy that puts the least effort and will power between them and their goals. (They also get enough sleep.)

How do you approach the things you find it hard to do? How did you arrive at that strategy? I’m starting my ARC list for Yuletide Gems, so…


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11 comments on “Work Easy, Play Often

  1. I’m a very structured and disciplined person, so I just set up my environment to give me cues to do what is in the To Do list. Then I power through the list. Pretty straightforward.
    I don’t give myself any slack, including when I’m sick or if there’s a crisis. So there are definite pros and cons to this rigid approach!

  2. This is not exactly what you are asking but I am trying to be happy. Trying to not let other people’s issues *kill my buzz* or destroy the little joy I have from day to day. I am trying to find ways to be happy in small ways which can possibly build to bigger happiness. I’ve explained to several people close me that I don’t expect them to make me happy, only to not make me UNhappy. It’s a concept they’ve never thought about and they are not getting it.

    This whole happiness thing is harder than you’d think. What constitutes happiness? Why is it that makes one person happy yet makes another unhappy? Can you be happy one day, unhappy the next and still be a happy person? Are there strategies that makes happiness be easier to be achieved?

    These are difficult times for us everyone and I am struggling right now. Escaping to another world via literature is a small things I can do to be happy for a short time. Thank you, Grace, for your contribution to my ability to escape.

  3. It depends on the type of task. One thing I find hard to do, as I’ve said before, is exercise. I found a 10-minute Total Body Workout from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s trainer on AARP and started doing it because “it’s only 10 minutes and there’s no real reason NOT to do it.” However, I also make myself do it first thing in the morning before I can sit down at the computer or to read a book, since I found before when I told myself I’d do it “today sometime” that “sometime” never came. I do feel better when I’ve finished but not because I enjoy the exercise. I feel better because I know it’s done for the day and I’m free. Thinking of the amount of time also helps me to do some tasks because I’ve realized it can actually take less time to do something (such as one meal’s dishes) than the time I’d been spending trying to get myself to do it. What I mean is I might have spent 30 minutes talking myself into doing the dishes and then discovered it only took me 10 minutes to do them, so I lost more time not doing them. I put that in my memory banks for the next time. For really important things (including the exercise), I add tasks to my calendar and they keep popping up at me. Plus it feels good to mark them completed.

  4. The things that I am most reluctant to do and have the hardest time with typically have an element of uncertainty to them. Never having tried something before and not knowing if I can actually do it make me really hesitant to begin. Usually it’s something around the house or yard that I’ve never tackled before. Fun music and podcasts will get me through washing dishes, but I can ignore a dripping gutter for years!

    Breaking a job into small steps and giving myself a pat on the back for each one (even the easy ones) works fairly well. My best source of tiny, manageable house projects is actually the guy who does pest control for us ever few months. He has lots of ideas for small improvements (caulk that wall, put mesh over that grate, etc.), and he’s generous enough to act impressed when I show him what I’ve accomplished. Super grateful!

  5. I tackle the most difficult task first and then prioritize the other items.

    Have I been great at doing that lately?No!
    Work has been busy since the re organization, took a few days off to show Laci and we bought a new car for me. Feel like my productive time has been taken up.

    So tomorrow I will drink my water, put in a few hours at work, review at least 1 book and vacuum…fingers crossed.
    Monday, Greg gets his walk!

  6. I try to delegate!

    However, I make beds Monday, wash clothes Thursday, Wednesday pm and Sunday are church oriented. Otherwise I go down my own rabbit holes and the aforementioned aren’t done. I recently finished a difficult translation for a business acquaintance that took a lot of self-discipline. It needed to be accurate; it needed to look good. I don’t speak contract law or accounting in any language, so I suppose part of the motivation was the challenge. And I could be useful.

  7. When I was working I was much more organised on my days off. Saturdays was house cleaning day and Sunday was a more relaxed and slow paced day of listening to music,reading,pottering,gardening,meeting friends for Sunday lunch,catching up with family.Since I have retired(a few years now)the housework plan has died and the relaxing more has taken over.When I know I’m to have visitors I quickly whizz around and freshen the apartment.Exercise done for the day!!!!!.I have fits and starts on exercise but it seems to balance out.So whilst my routines have gone to the wall my well being is in a nice place.But then I only have to look after me!!!!.I reached this state naturally over a span of time and cannot see myself returning to the old ways. I have not been caught out yet but I will have my excuses ready like “the old back is playing up or I did not hear the alarm and slept in.).Getting older must have some compensations surely.Keep well one and all and manage a smile for your self.You are important.

  8. 15 minute timers or audiobooks depending on the length of the task. Will work for chapters in really good books! Also breaking up both jobs & supplies by categories. Got my cleaning supplies all in one place sorted by need. Wood polish for dusting days. Kitchen cleaners for stainless steel & stone. Bathroom scrubbers & sanitizers for those sessions at the porcelain. Glass cleaner + microfiber cloths for mirrors & windows… Far less intimidating if I can grab & go + see when I’m getting low.

    Aerobic scrubbing burns the same calories as fancy classes, but also results in clean smells & bathtubs ready for soaking with glorious mounds of bubbles after. Plus I don’t have to worry how I look from behind when it’s just me & my battery powered tools. Getting a rechargeable shower scrubber so I can stay off my aching knees makes cleaning almost fun as the scum peels off the grout & tile. Almost.

  9. In a word: procrastination….. I’m very bad at doing (even scheduling!) things that I dread. There are several doctor and periodontist appointments that I’ve been putting off all summer… “Too many social engagements, pool parties, work events.” “I’ll get to them in September.” But September will start the countdown to the holidays. I’ll have to start thinking about Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving (even though my family demands that I make the exact same menu year to year). After that begins the Christmas Cookie Baking Marathon (700 or so cookies to distribute to family & friends) and gift shopping. After Christmas, who wants to schedule appointments during the winter when a freak snowstorm may require a last minute cancellation? Yeah. I’m not real good at facing the things I really don’t want to face. Since we are both mostly retired, I feel like we have all the time in the world to get these things done: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” Here’s hoping this idiot’s “brief candle” is not extinguished prematurely! Stay safe! Stay well everyone!

  10. “How do you approach the things you find it hard to do? How did you arrive at that strategy?”

    Well, at work, I work on them after most people have left for the day. I can do routine tasks all day long when surrounded by other people, but not when I need to be able to think sequentially and figure out all the steps the solution needs. And then write the programs and the jobs to run them.

    At home, I am a genius at procrastination, and sadly, usually it gets done when it simply can’t be put off anymore. I can put off dusting indefinitely.

    This does not apply to everything of course. I do the laundry and put it up. I load the dishwasher. I do the grocery shopping. I do almost all the animal care and we have 3 dogs and a multitude of cats, mostly house cats. Four of my boys don’t want to be in the house although I bring them in several times a month anyway. Except for Thomas Andrew, who will hide behind the washing machine and wail without ceasing.

  11. I am totally a “find the joy” person. Before I retired my greatest joy was working directly with my student/clients/patients (depending on environment) by being in the moment, readjusting to the struggles that arose and guiding to the desired outcome. Seeing the joy of discovery or achievement in a person is the the highest form of delight. I met and held my first grandchild this summer and the joy was visceral- very much like becoming a mother. How I would use any of that to up my motivation toward health goals I couldn’t say Grace…