Getting All Your Work Done

“If you get all your work done, then you can go outside and play.” These are the words that motivated my work as a child in grade school. They challenged me to complete my work as well as I could (being a perfectionist even then) and as fast as I could. The sooner I finished the task at hand, the sooner – and longer – I could go outside and play. Rewards don’t get much better. I never procrastinated.

Fast forward to present day. I procrastinate. “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do” is procrastination’s chief maxim, and it’s true. The force of an impending deadline has the ability to focus one’s attention like nothing else. Writing papers in college the night before saved a lot of time, and invariably resulted in A’s – not too bad a result in exchange for a little stress and loss of sleep.

Why is it so hard to start working on something early, when all the proverbial time in the world is at your disposal? Perhaps it’s because there’s no “go outside and play” waiting at the end of “If you get all your work done.” Getting all your work done as an adult just means more work – not very motivating.

I’ve read about rewarding yourself for work completed, and that’s helped to a degree. However, I also realize that real motivation lies in deeper things such as autonomy, mastery and purpose. At the end of the day, I want to do good work that I can be proud of for something that matters. That’s truly motivating.

Perhaps if I was working on the ultimate project that fulfilled these deeper needs, I wouldn’t procrastinate, but I doubt it. Work is inherently good and necessary, but it will always be frustrated in this life. As such, imperfection, though certainly not the goal, must be accepted to a degree, and the limitation of time must be embraced. These concessions, though difficult and unpleasant, are necessary to thwart inaction.

All that said, sometimes I just want to go outside and play.