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Why You're Resistant to Being Productive

bitario profile image Mo Bitar Originally published at ・3 min read

A friend was telling me yesterday that he’s been struggling to get daily tasks done. He’d rather just put them off. But this friend might as well be me, or probably you. Sometimes we go through periods of absolute demolition of our daily tasks, but other times, we go through seemingly longer periods filled with reluctance to work.

In observing this behavior in myself in the past, I’ve noticed that it usually comes down to three reasons why I don’t feel like doing the work I should clearly be doing. The way I’ve been able to observe it and get at its root is because it felt physical. There was a definite obstruction preventing me from doing the work. I could squeeze and squeeze, but could not get past this obstruction. What gives? For me, it’s always one of:

1. I don’t care about the work

This is a hard one and one that I’ve battled with constantly throughout my life. This was especially hard in college where I could not summon a single fuck to give. I couldn’t care less of the topics, and I was always entangled in some side hobby that was far more interesting. If you don’t care about the work, you’re not going to feel like doing it, no matter what productivity system you have in place. The moment you begin caring about the work, you’ll get tasks done so quickly that a productivity system might even be a hindrance (an exaggeration of course, but it truly does become automatic).

Unfortunately, there is no workaround for this one. If you don’t care about the work, it’s going be a long and agonizing journey to completing this task and its descendant tasks in the future. The only solution I’ve found is to find a new line of work altogether.

2. I'm not sure how doing that work will take me to the next step

We are future-minded beings after all. You have someplace you want to be in the future. There are things you need to do today. If you can’t draw a direct line between the present task and where you want to be in the future, you’re going to have a hard time summoning the will to complete the task.

This one can be solved through brainstorming: you need to find a way to draw a line from this point that you’re stuck at to where you want to be. As soon as you connect the dots, you can begin to find meaning in your tasks, and feel like you’re working towards a goal.

3. I'm not sure what I would do after I finish that work (what the next step is)

This is the hardest one of them all to detect. Because you like the work. You know what your long term goals are. But you just don’t know what you would do after you finish this task. So this innate friction arises. This happens to me mostly in releasing software. I love building software. And of course I have a long term goal of building a successful software product. But in the moment, I’m not sure what I would do after I release the project. And until I figure out what that next step is, there’s going to be huge friction to move forward.

This one is probably the easiest to solve: just figure out the next few tasks after this task. If all you have on your to-do list is “Release project”, you’re never going to release. If instead you have:

  • Release project
  • Email 10 journalists about it
  • Post on Product Hunt
  • Reach out to first 5 users

Then you’re going to have a lot easier time, since releasing the project wouldn’t be an existential dead-end. It’ll just be the beginning of your future.

The Final Reason

If you’ve gotten all three of these potential productivity resistors already locked in place, but still find yourself unproductive, you may just simply be tired. I know this was the case with me a few weeks ago. I had been working so hard that I was simply out of fuel. A few days recharge did the trick.

While we were made to work, there is an entire economy of resources residing in our bodies, a lot of it beyond our immediate control. Rather than taking the advice of another person in matters of personal productivity, just listen to yourself. What are your whispers saying? Ask yourself “Why am I not doing the work I should clearly be doing?” and listen to the answers your mind starts shouting. The right answer will always be echoed. It’s just a matter of listening.

Discussion (1)

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

I wanted to write this article yesterday, but you beat me to it. I think all jobs are a mixture of interesting work, and work you just have to power through. Certain tasks, I get so bored with. One of my strategies is putting on the head phones and concentrating on music, and letting the boring stuff be done by autopilot. But even then sometimes I just cannot seem to make forward progress.

Also relevant is this post on Fire and Motion by Joe Spolsky of Stack Overflow fame. It's from 2002 but humans haven't changed much since then. I love the brutal honesty.