Pride and Productivity
Thoughts about our struggle to get things done, and maybe, how we can do our “best stuff”
Every day, I have a list of things to do. This list comes in various flavors, which include (but probably aren’t limited to):
- things that I have to do
- things that others expect me to do
- things I want to do
- things I don’t want to do, but that I want to have done
- things that would be nice to do, but I’m not holding my breath
You get the picture. The more days I maintain a list of projects and the corresponding to-do list, the more of these different classes of items pop up on it. But now and then, I ask myself if I’m really doing the best stuff.
What do I mean by best stuff? I think that term might mean something slightly different for everyone who has a to-do list. But most of us who have one probably know what I mean. The best stuff are those tasks that when you finally get done with them, you feel great. Though you spent a great deal of energy on them, and should probably be drained, you’re not. In fact, you’re energized! You feel like you want to take on even more stuff, and just achieve all of your goals today!
Yeah, that’s the best stuff right there. That’s the stuff you want to populate your to-do list every day.
But as any keeper of a list knows, that simply isn’t how it works. But what if, for the most part, it could?
For the past few days, I have begun asking myself a simple question as I look at the list of things that I’ve queued up for myself each day:
What will I be proud of having gotten done today?
Some things already on the list serve as answers to that question. They move to the top of the list. Some things that aren’t on the list get put on to it.
Only after that do I then ask how realistic it is that I actually get all this stuff done today. Dreaming big comes first; whittling away a practical plan comes second. It has to work that way, lest we all continue to just do okay at best.
Don’t neglect thinking big every day — just for 2 or 3 minutes, while you glance at your to-do list. Prioritize making yourself proud. You’ll gain the momentum and drive to stay engaged each day, and do the small things that are needed to get the big stuff done.
I’m not going to search for a bunch of HBR articles or studies to back up the claim that when you feel proud of yourself you are more productive. You have all felt that at one time or another, and that is a much more effective persuader than evidence from a study at Stanford.
Do one thing every day to make yourself proud of you — however small. Put that thing on your list and, come hell or high-water, do that thing. The size doesn’t matter. You gave yourself a challenge and met it. You’ve silenced the self-doubt with objective evidence. You and your inner critic can both look at the item crossed off on your to-do list and see that you did the damn thing — even if it was simply make my bed, for the first time in years.
When it comes to thinking big — “big” and “small” are relative terms, but that’s what makes them so powerful. Never adjust the pride you feel for your accomplishment based on how it compares to someone else’s — period.
No matter how objectively small my big goal may be, it moves me with an equal force to someone else’s bigger goal. My big goal is to finish this piece of writing and publish it today. Elon Musk’s big goal is to get to Mars. His big goal dwarfs mine, but it pushes me nonetheless. And your big goals — however small in comparison — should push you, as well.