I used to be a drama queen – thriving on a perverse rush that comes from being stupid-busy.
Of course, I’d tell anyone willing to listen I hated feeling busy. But, truth be told, I loved it.
Mysteriously, my days dissolved into a frenzy of unplanned activities: prepping for a keynote, last-minute changes to a proposal (of course due that day), returning phone calls, squeezing in a workout, and then storming through the grocery aisles before dashing home to cook up something for whoever was home that night, only to remember they all had other plans.
In my diluted mind I was a task-master hero.
In reality, I was an idiot.
Attracting drama into your life is always easier than planning and working on one task at a time until done. The drama appears, put out the fire, get a dopamine rush then head off to do it again.
For survival, I’ve learned a few remedies that might help you as well as they’ve helped me.
And it starts with looking at rewards.
1 – Change your reward
All behaviour has a reward, including being a drama queen.
A necessary step to changing any habit is to not only change your routine (like single-tasking or taking 15 minutes on Friday to clear the clutter), but to also change the reward you’re seeking.
Before I made a habit of writing every morning, I would write in coffee shops – inspired by authors who swore they did their best work in public spaces. I tried to shut out the noise and get my work done. But, it wasn’t working.
Despite my best efforts (and a lot of London Fogs), I was distracted and found the combination of noise and waning afternoon focus was killing my productivity. So I changed my reward.
That’s when I switched from a reward of working in a cool setting to productivity – the more I produced the happier I was.
And that’s when I switched to dedicating every morning to 2 hours of writing and I haven’t looked back.
What’s the reward you get from abandoning your plans, letting email drive your day or saying “Yes” to everyone? Once you start working toward the rewards you really want it’s time to know what ‘done’ looks like.
2 – Know what ‘done’ looks like
Before you start to reprogram yourself to be more productive and effective, you need to know what ‘done’ looks like. Sounds simple, I know, but do you know what a day well spent looks like?
Is it 3 outbound phone calls? Two successful coaching meetings? Getting 70% of tasks crossed off your list? Or writing 1,000 words?
The worse thing is to just show up. Good luck with that – you’ll be a victim of distractions and while you might have a warm fuzzy feeling from running hard all day you won’t have any damn idea where the day went and little results to show for it.
Next, you have to work hard and then…stop.
3 – Work hard then stop
One of my last running marathons was in my hometown of Kelowna. I hadn’t run a marathon for a few years and didn’t know that the runners wearing pink bunny ears with numbers like “3:15”, “3:30”, “3:45” written on them were pace runners (the numbers indicated their planned finish times). All the runners in their group had been training to run 10 minutes on, 1 minute off.
Not only was this run/walk strategy all the rage, it became embarrassingly apparent it was working better than my head-down, plough-ahead strategy (which, truth be told, wasn’t a strategy at all).
At work you can use the same work hard, then stop, strategy.
Whether you use a pomodoro technique of 20 minutes work, followed by a break, or break between tasks, your productivity will increase with frequent breaks.
I sometimes find working one task at a time and avoiding my past drama queen style feels prescribed – even slow. The reality is, I’m more productive, carry less stress and, when I get home, it’s not just my dog who comes to greet me.
I like that result.