When it comes to admitting my flaws, there are none that I feel more comfortable in owning than my laziness. I consider myself someone with a fairly strong work ethic — I set myself big goals and, generally, I work very hard in the crunch times to accomplish them — but I am also not the type to go above and beyond in my tasks. I figure out what needs to get done, the absolute quickest way to get there, and I do it. And like most people, I procrastinate on the tedious or uninteresting things, and sometimes that can lead to forgetting them entirely.
The truth is that I’ve just never had the type-A personality that leads to an obsessive control of one’s time, the tasks at hand, or cramming the most productive activities into a day. I’ve never been the type to get up at 6 AM to go for a vigorous workout before heading to the office, nor am I going to get any kind of joy from going over details with a fine-toothed comb. If I have to, I will, but I’d rather be doing something non-work-related than dedicating more time than necessary to work. When I’m feeling generous, I say that this is just as much my desire for a strong work/life balance as it is laziness — but it’s also laziness.
And as long as I manage it, and make sure that I’m using it in that famous Bill Gates-y way (he said that he puts a lazy person on difficult tasks, because they will find the easiest way to get it done), things are okay. But I have to keep that laziness in check, and not allow it to derail what really needs to get done. So I’ve come up with some general strategies for getting out of my own way, and getting shit done.
1. Intermittent Fasting. I’ll start with the one people usually get mad at. If you think Intermittent Fasting as a practice is a disorder, which many people unfamiliar with the concept do, there’s nothing much I can say to you except “no.” A quick scan of Google will lead you to its benefits and use for everything from meditation to athleticism. For me, I’ve found that not only has it allowed me to control my hunger levels, weight, and eating habits for a solid year now, it also makes me hugely productive.
I work better on an empty stomach, and so, apparently, do many people. Generally, I don’t eat until 2 PM, and throughout the morning just drink coffee and water. I find that the feeling of gentle, manageable hunger leads to a sort of humming productivity, and I feel clear-headed, agile, and able to concentrate. After I eat lunch, during digestion, I tend to get lethargic and much slower, and so I put all of my most complicated work in the morning during my fasting period. It makes everything just that much easier to complete.
2. Wall charts. When I have big projects, I force myself to put a very large chart or list on the wall to plan it out visually and segment it into chunks. Right now, for a huge thing, I got a roll of dry-erase contact paper to put up in the office and lay everything out within my line of sight. I am very prone to forgetting small details in the scope of a big thing, so having a way to visualize — and highlight or cross off — the different little elements prevents that. Plus, if you do it right, it can actually be a cute piece of decor.
3. Excessive calendar alerts. If you looked at my Google Calendar sometimes, you’d think I was an insane person. But having a million little reminders of all the things I have to do only helps me, even if it’s something tiny (or not even work-related). some people are good about remembering their day’s tasks, but I am absolutely shit at it unless I have a little pop-up reminding me that it’s time. Luckily, I have Google to act as my robot assistant for the time being.
4. Telling other people my plans. I find that, when it comes to tasks I’m really, really putting off, the best way to ensure that it will happen is to enlist a friend or co-worker to keep me accountable. I had some administrative stuff to take care of that was extremely important but highly boring, and I literally told Lauren the other day, “please ask me tomorrow if I’ve done this.” Lo and behold, I hadn’t, and when she Gchatted me to ask if I had, that was the moment that I scrambled to my email to shoot off the message and get the ball rolling. A day later and everything is in place, and I was able — with the help of my partner — to get over the silly mental block of “taking 15 minutes to complete a basic task.”
5. Forcing myself to sleep. There have been several occasions where I was teeming from the coffee I idiotically chose to drink at 5 PM or some bit of good news, realizing that I wasn’t going to sleep naturally until 2 AM, and I had to be up early and coherent the next morning for a meeting. On these occasions, I bit the bullet and take a sleep aid, so that I could stay in my rhythm and not lose the progress I’ve been making about pushing my natural clock earlier. For me, I know a big weakness and frequent cause of my laziness is simple fatigue, and that it’s very easy to undue my strides. This means that taking proactive steps sometimes to ensure I stay on schedule is very much worth it in the long-term.
And though I don’t take Ambien (for which I briefly had a prescription), I find that a relatively rare (ie, once every month or so) use of a drug store sleep aid is a happy medium. I feel strongly that if I can change a habit through force of will, it’s better to not jump to medication — as I initially did with Ambien when I moved to New York — but I also realize that sometimes we all need help, and it’s not a character flaw. Accepting this happy medium was a key to sustainably overcoming my internal clock problem (and its impact on my productivity).
6. Speed-running my tedious tasks. This may sound stupid, but I treat the tedious tasks I hate the most (admin stuff, routine emails, etc) like a video game, and I literally time myself. I’ve even set up little mini-prizes if I can get them done in record time. Perhaps some people wouldn’t like the idea of voluntarily working under pressure, but I find that it’s the only thing that helps me power through the stuff I avoid. And if I can treat myself to a happy hour cocktail and some garlic bread if I get to inbox zero in under an hour, that is more than reason enough for me to try.
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