Friday, July 1, 2011

Beating Drudgery at Work (Part I)

So, if you are reading this blog, I hope you are getting the picture that having a calling doesn't mean that work is all fun and games. Indeed, our zookeeper research suggests that slogging through drudgery is a price you pay to find meaning; drudgery and meaning are often two sides of the same coin. It usually takes a lot of mundane work to create something that lasts.

If you pay too much attention to the romanticized version of calling (i.e., 24/7 bliss), you can easily start to feel cheated at work: "Hey, if this is what I'm really meant to do, why am I bored/tired/disinterested/etc.?"

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, but I'll share just one tonight. And it's personal.

My academic profession is most definitely my calling in life. But the drudgery of writing - especially when I'm facing the dreaded blank computer screen at the beginning of a project - can almost paralyze me. I have to drag myself to write that first sentence, and the second one is only marginally easier. On my worst days, I find a thousand creative ways to postpone my writing. I gradually accrue little droplets of guilt, and by the end of the day, with nothing written, I'm drenched in it. String enough of those guilt-soaked days together, and it's easy to begin doubting whether I'm really meant to be a professor.

Then I learned a technique that changed everything. In fact, I attribute getting tenure to this one strategy. It's not rocket science. It's simply to BEGIN every work day by spending 15 minutes on the hardest thing you have to do. (A hearty thanks to my friend, Jane Birch of the BYU Faculty Center, for teaching me this!)

The results were astonishing.

  • First, I was amazed at how much I could get done in just 15 minutes of focused writing. 
  • Second, 15 minutes was usually enough to get me over the drudgery hump, and I often wrote for much longer. 
  • Third, the rest of my day was unencumbered with dread or guilt, so I felt far more energized and creative. 
  • Fourth, I reconnected with my sense of calling. I knew who I was. I was a scholar, because I was writing!
Caveat: just because this worked so well for me, doesn't mean it's a one-size-fits-all technique. Some people feel better starting with a fun task and gradually working into the harder stuff. But if your sense of drudgery is overpowering your sense of calling, try doing the hardest thing first. You might find, like me, that your professional calling snaps into perspective once you stop hiding from the biggest challenges.

1 comment:

  1. What do you mean hiding? There are weeds in the gardens, my office might feel better if I put my desk over *there*, and one should really read everything that's written on a subject before working on it oneself. This just feels like ... a kick in the pants ...


    This is actually really helpful, and really timely. I've only done this accidentally before, but it was effective. I'm going to do it consciously now.