Less Tasks, More Missions

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

I’m a big believer in the power of routine. It encourages good habits when you have a daily mindset of “A, followed by B, followed by C…” In my case, my mornings consist of:

  1. Wake up.
  2. Eat breakfast- a bowl of cereal, some protein and a cup of vegetable juice on work days, a more involved breakfast on weekends (say, a loaded omelette.)
  3. Meditation practice, minimum 15 minutes.
  4. Shower, dress, depart for work.

I go through the steps, everything I want to get done gets done, and I’m on my way.

Routines are, however, by their nature a structure. Structures are, by custom, rigid and also encourage rigid thinking. Every now and then, it’s good to “shake it up” and learn to “go with the flow” again.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A Little Improv Never Hurt Anyone

This morning, I didn’t go through my usual routine. I woke up at around 6:30 when my sister (who lives in New Jersey) asked if I was going to join her for a 10 AM Zoom workout program she’s trying to spread the word about.
I’d told her last week that I would, but I explained that I just woke up.
“Cool. You’ve got 15 minutes still, so see you soon!”

On my weekends, I like to take my time in the mornings. I eat breakfast, feed the cat, meditate, THEN whatever workout I’d picked for the day. With a groan, I got up, ate a quick breakfast, fed the cat, and chugged some pre-workout to get ready for what turned out to be 30 minutes of HIIT (high intensity interval training) exercise. It was a little annoying to get shaken out of my routine, but ultimately I felt energized and was able to carry on with my day just fine.

Similarly, I’ve recently been working with my new manager at the bakery. She’s expected to learn all the positions, and my prep station- while by no means the most technically challenging stations- is one of the busiest and most complicated. After a shift by herself, she related thinking “None of this is hard, but why does it feel like SO MUCH?”

Toward the end of the day, I usually do what’s called “The Pull.” It’s a tedious process of putting things prepared earlier on sheet pans so they’ll be ready to bake the next morning. It usually take about 90 minutes and involves little clean-up. One day, my manager asked why I couldn’t just do it first thing and get it out of the way. There were a number of reasons that I hadn’t in the past- lack of information till later in the day, lack of sheet pans, equipment still being used by other bakers, and so on- but even on days lacking those hold-ups, I had to admit it was “just out of habit” to do this annoyingly tedious task last. Reflecting afterward, I realized that- barring any hold-ups or time-sensitive tasks- I might end my day feeling bit more energized if I didn’t save the soul-sucking task for dead last.

The fact that I work in a French bakery notwithstanding…

Your Mission(s), Should You Choose To Accept Them

The fact is, life is bigger than you. It doesn’t really care about your routines or timelines. The world is absolutely going to keep doing what it’ll do, with or without your permission, and you can’t always bend it to your will. You need to be able to go with the flow.

When I started looking up productivity strategies and tools- right around the time I realized the Big Secret of Managing Time– one of the best ones I found was echoed by personages like Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferriss, and Gen. Norman “Stormin’ Norman” Schwartzkopf. I’ll paraphrase it for you here:

“Every morning, write down five things you want to accomplish. Of those, pick three that- if completed- will add up to a ‘good day.’ Then go do the five- and if you only manage the three, it’s still a good day. “

There it is. No routine needed- just a series of tasks.

This weekend, I knew I had several things that I wanted to get done:

  • Make pie. (Made Peach Huckleberry Handpies yesterday. Yummy.)
  • Write this blog post. (In progress. Duh.)
  • Work on one of my manuscripts (at least 30 minutes)
  • Finish a book I’m reading. (Just finished Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week this morning.)
  • Do my laundry. (In progress, while I’m writing. Yeah time management!)
  • Buy some new socks. (The hardest one. I’m annoyingly picky about my sock choices.)
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

With the exception of the blog post, none of them have a due date beyond “before the end of day Saturday.” In the bakery, I would think of this as my prep sheet- tasks that need to get done, and if I run out of time, picking which ones I’m okay with getting caught up on tomorrow. You can think of them as “mission objectives” if you like, with the ultimate mission of “get s*** done today.”

What order to get them done in? Whichever is most convenient.
How will I know they’re done? When I do them in a way that feels acceptable. The only one I’d be screwing by slacking off on any of it is myself.
And of course, if I get them all done, I get to reward myself. In this case- getting all the writing I want done means I can go down to the food pod and treat myself to a burrito, without worrying about whether or not I should be writing. Believe me, when you’re as hung up on “being productive” as I am, that’s a serious reward by itself.

What if Getting Started is the Hard Part?

As I was writing the above, I remembered something that a few of my friends have mentioned before whenever anyone (including me) brings up productivity “advice”- that all this stuff is great, if it works for you.

Despite my issues with anxiety and depression, I am for the most part “neurotypical”– meaning that most of the time, my brain works the way I want it to and in a way that is effective. For some folks, that is not always the case.

A common problem for people with a host of more serious mental conditions- including ADD/ADHD, PTSD, trauma, mood disorders, and autism- is executive dysfunction. It sounds like something in a Dilbert comic, but it’s actually serious business.

Executive dysfunction is best described as difficulty managing goal-oriented tasks. For example, a person with executive dysfunction may tell themselves “I need to get up and wash my dishes” twelve times in an hour, but it won’t get done. They’ll be conscious of it. They’ll be willing to do it. They’ll understand the reasoning for it and the consequences of having gross dishes- but they just can’t start.

There’s a number of things people who suffer from executive dysfunction can try to work around the problem. In fact, therapists recommend using several, as one method alone- such has “just keeping a day planner” may not work. (“Yeah, except I’ve got to remember to use the damn planner.”)

I don’t want to get so far that I wind up talking out of my ass on this, but all I can say- for everyone- is be kind to yourself. Maybe you stick to routines for a reason, and that “muscle memory” reroutes around your executive dysfunction. Maybe routines help keep your brain in check, and a strict structure keeps your mind from wandering into dark places. I love talking about stuff like this, and I hope it helps, but always do what’s best for you, first and foremost.

I think that’s a good place to wrap up today. Time to flip my laundry and pick a manuscript to work on… followed by which burrito I want to get tonight.

What do you all think? Are you a routine person, or a task-list person? Both, or neither? Drop it in the comments!

Stay Classy,

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2 thoughts on “Less Tasks, More Missions

  1. I’m both- routine and task list; but what helps me is to get the worst job done first (as you said) because I have more energy early in the day.
    The routine stuff and tasks just fill in throughout the day. Good going, Matt!

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