Friday, August 7, 2020

Dealing with Drudgery

Years ago, the chair of the Philosophy Department asked me to serve on a particularly dreary committee. I hesitated: "It sounds like so much drudgery!" Eager to have me - or anyone, actually - take on this chore, he hastened to assure me, "But you're so good at drudgery!"

Indeed, once upon a time I was "good at drudgery" - by which I mean "dispatching distasteful tasks with brisk efficiency." But lately I've become . . . not so good. Each morning I dutifully set down various Loathsome Tasks (LT's) onto the day's to-do list. But at nightfall, those LTs remain undone, and with a sigh, I copy them onto the to-do list for tomorrow.

My current dilemma regarding how to deal with drudgery is this: 

On the one hand, the most sure-fire way to cross off LTs is to leap into doing them as soon as I wake up. But there is only one first, best hour of the day. If I give it to LTs, I don't give it to the work I really care about, which for me is writing. One might think that the relief of immediately knocking off an LT would generate momentum for accomplishing more pleasurable tasks for the rest of the day. But one would think wrong. Even though I love writing, and proclaim each writing hour to be an Hour of Bliss, writing is nonetheless daunting. Strength must be summoned - strength squandered instead on LTs.

But on the other hand, if I give the first, best hour of the day to writing, I'm already so thrilled with the day's productivity that I feel no need to accomplish anything else. "Drudgery can wait!" I chortle to myself. So drudgery waits. And waits. And waits.

It doesn't work to give myself rewards, either. I'm not very good at delayed gratification. Besides, no additional reward will give me any greater happiness than the reward I'd get simply from crossing one more LT off that darned list.

So here is my new plan. (I love trying out different plans!) 

The first, best hour of the day goes to writing, from 5:00-6:00 a.m.

Then: walk, shower, breakfast, teeth-brushing.

Then RESTART the day: declare that the earlier Hour of Bliss was just a extra credit hour, not part of the work day proper. After all, I didn't HAVE to get up at 5:00. A lot of people don't get up 5:00. Such an early hour, according to proverb, belongs rightly to the early bird, to use as she will. But now, at 8:00, the REAL and OFFICIAL work day is beginning. 

Then: set a timer (or turn over my hourglass) and devote the first, fresh hour of the REAL work day to the most urgent of the many Loathsome Tasks facing me. Ta-dah!

"Only ONE hour?" you scoff. "How much drudging can get drudged in one puny, pathetic, pitiful hour?" 

The answer is: more than you would think. The key to accomplishing ANY task is first to face it. Facing it is truly 90 percent of the battle. And it's easier to face a task if I promise myself I only have to devote one short hour to it. Ah, but once the task is faced, I can usually go longer than an hour - maybe even two! Enough to cross off several LT's, especially as many of the tasks on which I've been procrastinating FOR WEEKS are shamefully tiny - some so tiny that it practically takes as long to write them on the to-do list than it would take simply to do them.

So: one Hour of Bliss before the real day begins, and then an Hour of Drudgery to start the real day. 

And then: the reward of feeling obnoxiously smug and self-satisfied till the day's end.  

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