Working Up the Ladder

One of my worries in blogging is that people will get the impression that I am always at 100%, ready to be my absolute best and live up to the principles I write about. I think I’m there a lot of the time, but I have my slow and unmotivated days just like everyone else.

Sometimes I wake up and read reddit for an hour before I even look at anything productive. Sometimes I take a look at my todo list and just can’t muster the energy to do any of it. Sometimes I gut through it even though I really don’t feel like it.

One big thing I’ve learned through this process is that you can’t always start with your most important task of the day. On a good day it’s easy and the optimal way to run, but on a bad day the mere presence of a big important task can be enough to make one want to take the day off.

A much better strategy I’ve found is to just work my way up the ladder.

When I recognize that I’m having a day like that I just ask myself honestly what the most productive useful thing is that I’m up for doing. Sometimes it’s a medium level task, sometimes it’s cleaning some papers from my desk.

No problem. I just do the easy thing. Then I ask myself again what the most productive useful thing I’m willing to do is. It’s always something that’s just a little bit more important. If I cleaned the papers off my desk, maybe I then feel like I could totally clean up my office. Or maybe I feel like I could organize my papers.

It’s so easy to move up the scale, even if it’s gradual. Usually once I get moving a little bit I get excited about big tasks and I’m suddenly at the top of the ladder. I’ve burnt an hour or two, but in the process I’ve gotten a few things done that I was going to have to do anyway.

In a way this is ideal, because it’s a really bad idea to use time that could have been most-important-task-time for clearing papers. So if you get those sorts of things out of the way when they’re the only things you really feel up for doing, you’re now making it less likely that you’ll waste time when you’re at your most capable.

Some days you’ll just stay at low rungs all day and never make it to the top. That’s fine too, as long as it doesn’t happen all the time. I used to track my days carefully and found that I’d feel that way for about 2-3 days maximum, usually more like one. When I was in them, however, they felt like they would extend past weeks.

The real enemy is doing things of zero productive value. We all fall into that trap sometimes, but if you can get yourself to do something even slightly better you can work your way up to doing some excellent work. I’ve found very few cases where people can totally waste time and then somehow feel inspired to do great work.

Work with yourself, not against yourself. Push yourself and make sure that you’re working on the biggest most important things frequently enough to reach goals at a pace that works for you, but don’t feel bad when you have days where you just can’t get there.

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Photo is the awesome climbing wall on the Independence of the Seas. Climbing walls are one of my favorite cruise features.

There are still some spots for Superhuman 3 in October. Come join me in Vegas in October!

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