Learning a work ethic later in life
I saw a ton of great posts in divorced's topic about depression, and I was wondering if anybody had insights on a semi-related topic.
Here's my problem: I have almost no tolerance for necessary but dull work. I never really learned a work ethic as a kid because I was "smart." But now being smart, particularly in the ways I am, seems to have verrry little correlation with success, and I'd like to figure this out sooner rather than later.
Procrastination has always been a problem for me, though its taken different forms. In high school I just didn't give a damn about derivatives or physics. In college I procrastinated because I was a perfectionist, and by waiting to the 11th hour I gave myself an excuse for an average effort.
I worked on campus throughout college, and was even promoted, but that was because the manager liked me rather than competence. The other professionals knew not to bother with me if they needed something done. For my part, I felt like that job -- which was really pretty easy -- was this massive cross to bear. I showed up and shirked as much as possible.
As a result, I've felt like an impostor. Fake it till you make it is great, but I haven't really made it... just scraped by. I may finally get bit by my procrastination at my new teaching job. End of the semester's coming up, and there's a huge backlog of ungraded papers I've let pile up. I think about diving in and my stomach turns. Intellectually I know that this is part of the job and I need money, but those neurons don't have anything to do with the ones that'll open up my backpack, you know?
It makes me anxious, and it makes me feel like my impulse control is broken. How am I supposed to be an adult if I'm averse to anything that's not enjoyable?
I know a lot of people say "do what you love and motivation isn't a problem," but what I like is writing, and that's not going to keep me fed. I'll work on that at nights, but in the days I must learn how to drudge.
Anyway, I'd be grateful for any advice. I'm off to bed -- the sweetest procrastination there is.
I have the same problem except I'm not that smart. I've gotten round it by working for a company who are used to me working in spurts - when I'm good I'm bloody good, but they know they need to manage me to make sure I keep on top of the incidentals.
On the flip side it means I really don't nag for pay rises as I feel I don't deserve them.
Amphetamines do the trick for me.
(More seriously -- if this checklist suggests it, go get screened by a professional)
The only way to get things done that I've found is to have a strict routine and make yourself stick to it.
There really isn't an alternative to self-discipline unfortunately. I am in kind of the same boat, I'm a pretty lazy guy who happens to be smart enough to get by despite the minimal effort. I have a job that I enjoy but it's still too easy for me to get distracted and go off on an unrelated tangent or just waste time in displacement activity (like hey, posting on the internet). Metaphorically sitting myself down and having a stern word is the only way I get stuff done.
It's probably a sign of ADHD if I didn't bother finishing the checklist when I realized it wasn't automated so I'd actually have to keep track of my own score.
Originally Posted by Talisker
There's probably an automated one out there somewhere, but I got distracted.
This is the right way to think about that misleading platitude, unless you're lucky enough to love doing something that provides sufficient income. Of course, you don't have to stay in a drudge job forever either.
Originally Posted by erikg88
Anyway, do you write anything with regular output, such as a blog? Having to perform on a deadline ought to help you build a work ethic. If it's just writing when you feel like it, you probably won't pick up any good habits from it.
For your ungraded papers that are overwhelming you: recently I heard some good advice about getting things done. I think a writer even said it. You need to do two things:
1. Just get started. Don't wait until the perfect time or level of motivation. Dive in.
2. Don't get proud of yourself once you make some progress. Keep your head down instead of taking a break or pausing to survey your success.
I laughed when I heard this because it describes me so well.
For me, accomplishing things -- even just completing small tasks -- provides a slow-drip of motivation that keeps me going. If I go too long without completing anything, then I fall into a rut and I'm unable to push through drudgery. Checking items off of a list doesn't count, especially if the list is arbitrarily created to support completing things.
Here's what I'd try:
Take a look around yourself at work and try to figure out how you can improve something either about your work process or about the work environment and then set it as a small goal for yourself to do that. It can be anything from making a better Excel sheet to reviving a dying office plant. Track your accomplishments so that you have something to look back upon (this also can be useful for annual reviews, etc). You may find that you become ever so slightly more engaged in your work.
Grin and bear it until you get promoted to a level where you can hire people to cover your weaknesses. I was a not very good at all graduate trainee (failed probation at first one, at the one I am now, my first year evaluation was apparently a record low, but survived after being put on probation again) I knuckled down and did an OK job through junior/ middle management, shining in one role that really suited me that at least gave the firm some belief in me
But I know what I am not good at, and I don't like doing stuff I am not good at doing. So, as soon as I was able to, I looked to hire/ grab people who were much better than I was to do the things that I am not good at, and have no problem paying them more than I make myself. This makes me a surprisingly good (well, I am surprised) senior manager (a VP at a blue chip), as I see my role as making it easy for them to do their jobs well, so I can get on with the areas that I actually enjoy doing, and so can do reasonably competently.
My college experience was pretty comparable to yours. Since then, I've found that self-discipline comes with practice. Each time you force yourself to push through the work, you're developing a habit that makes it easier to do the next time. Conversely, every time you leave essential work for later, you're developing a habit that's going to make it harder not to dick off in the future.
I've also found that it's far easier for me to procrastinate when I'm only doing something for myself. I'll happily put off bills for months, just because dealing with them is too boring. In contrast, I've found it comparatively easy to come into work seven days a week for the last two months (excepting Thanksgiving), because when I'm there I'm doing things that make my classes suck less, which is beneficial for my students.
Same here, I got by on being smart and not working hard all through college, and then my ass got kicked afterwards. Things are going better now, and I think I am doing a lot better.
It's tough for a lot of us to manage our time well, especially when we don't have someone directing us constantly.
You can try this as a strategy. You have to grade papers. Make yourself work in short blocks of time. Don't think about getting X number of papers done, but set some kind of timer and tell yourself you're going to work in 25 minute blocks. Work 25 minutes and then give yourself a bit of a break, and then do another 25 minute block. See if you can do three or four of these and then give yourself a longer break.
So your goal isn't to get all the papers graded. Your goal is to sit down and work for 25 minutes. That 25 minutes will pass quickly. If you're going to be in front of a computer you can download a free tool, Focus Booster, that's a timer. That may help.
I'm a procrastinator, and got though things by being smarter than the average bear. I was lucky that computer programming interests me an I have a job in IT. But that still doesn't mean every task is something that I like. The way I get through things s with a task list. List things I have to do, and then just get through them. Even disagreeable tasks aren't as bad once started and you have some momentum. There will be a temptation to pick the tasks you like and defer the ones you don't so you need to honestly prioritize them and then do them in order. Yes it takes some discipline that you may not currently have, but you can develop that discipline through practise.
Another topic I'm quite interested in. Especially hearing pro and cons of medication - I searched a bit and found a pamphlet saying that 60% of adult ADHD sufferers reported great improvement from medication (Ritalin I suppose?). But that's just one source.
But a lot on that checklist fits me very well and right now my job is very stressful and I'm not handling it well (but then, who handles stress well? If it was easily managed it wouldn't be stress).
Like others I also floated through college (in some subjects - others where hard work and memorization was necessary, I didn't) but if that was because of my above average intelligence or because I was a good arguer/bullshitter, I don't know (and I'd say those are linked).
But I haven't had my ass kicked, as others are describing - I landed a job well suited to my skills and way of working - but it can be stressful and I recognize the feeling of unhappiness when doing necessary drudgery (but then again, who's happy doing dishes or vacuuming?)
Fascinating stuff. Keep enlightening me, people.
Last edited by Hans Lauring; 12-15-2011 at 07:29 AM.
Considering the old mantra of "work hard, get ahead" only seems to result in the competent people being overworked and "laid off" anyway, I can't in good conscience recommend erik88 change his behavior. Unless you find yourself in a situation where the only jobs you can get are ones that don't pay a living wage, fuck it, don't worry about it.
I have to wonder what program people are doing in college/university where being smart gets you through without putting in any work. I consider myself decently intelligent and my classmates are some of the smartest people I've ever met but not a single one of us would stand a chance at passing if we weren't putting in the necessary boring grunt work.
Yeah, I believe that's the drug, or the drug family. Take speed. Makes you focus and work hard.
Originally Posted by Hans Lauring
I've heard that's one of the reasons why crystal meth is so addictive -- you get shit done when you first start taking it. You feel good and get a lot of positive reinforcement. Your brain probably goes crazy and starts flooding you with those natural opiates to reward you. Too bad it makes people nutty and rots their teeth and gives them heart attacks. Otherwise it's great stuff!
I did put work into college, and at the time I felt like I was really pushing myself. In graduate school I discovered that there were levels of work I hadn't imagined. It never would have occurred to me in college that someone would spend the entire weekend before a major exam in the library studying for it, in addition to regular efforts over the course of the semester.
Originally Posted by Staff Sergeant
Also, keep in mind that you're going to a university where you only take science courses. The humanities and social sciences are relatively easy at the undergraduate level. For example, I took two sociology courses where I would show up to every class, maybe take ten pages of notes throughout the semester, and study for an hour or two right before the exam. This strategy resulted in As. I was lucky to get a C with the same approach in an introductory biology course.
A fascinating question that I have been asking myself for a long time. It also relates to the question of whether you are really just being lazy and should work harder, or whether you really do justifiably hate the work you do. Leads to questions like, are there any other jobs out there that you would feel motivation to do? How many jobs do you get to cycle through (if you can even get the job in the first place) before you realize you just don't like work versus you haven't found the properly motivating job? How much damage do you do to your career/earnings to find the "right job"? How much money is it worth giving up to find a job you aren't "lazy" at?
Yeah, count me in the group that finds this really interesting.
I find that I have had a really chequered history in that there have been times when I worked incredibly hard and was very productive, and other times when I really struggled to work at all. I have chalked the productive eras up to "good bosses" but I don't really know what exactly makes a good boss or how to find one, or how to make myself more independently productive.
My pattern at present seems to be:
Get an assignment, goof off, putter around, get anxious, start working, produce okay work. Sometimes I'm late with projects and I don't really enjoy it. And I liked feeling like I was working very hard. The days flew by and I really did have a lot of fun.
The greatest enemy of procrastination is fear.
Yeah, I used to be a proscratinator until I had a few near-misses with disaster in my undergrad. Now I have great study habits, but also recurring dreams where I skipped math all semester and the exam is in two days. So it's kind of a wash, I guess.
Originally Posted by Enidigm
I have two suggestions:
1) You don't have to love what you do, but you should at least take pride in what you do. If you take pride in your work, fear of failure should provide that motivation to overcome procrastination.
2) If you simply don't take pride in your work and are only doing it because you need to eat, consider how much deeper and shittier the rabbit hole goes if you come up short. That should give you a healthy fear tinged with self-preservation.
If your expectation is simply that others should take care of you while you do nothing and produce nothing, then maybe move to England.
This is pretty terrible in my opinion. It sounds all tough and practical. But having fear be the sole motivator to working is not a long term solution (and tends to lead to other issues over time).
Originally Posted by Reldan
Is this a joke? If it's not, can I live in the England you're imagining please? It sounds kind of sweet. Do we all get six-figure benefit payments and Darjeeling with the Queen?
Originally Posted by Reldan
Good points in this thread, although I don't think terror is a particularly good way to lasting satisfaction and happiness. I personally find getting over the blank page early the biggest thing. By hook or by crook, get whatever it is started.
It's natural to struggle with motivation sometimes though. Like everything else, it's being aware of the issue and managing it.
I was a smart kid. Tested in the top 1% of the country in class exams, specialist administered Iq exam put me high in the genius range, not prodigy level but smarter than most average geniuses. I eventually figured out I was smart and hated work. Then I got lazy and coasted. Then I started drinking and doing drug. Then I got schizophrenia. Then I became relatively stupid. About as smart as Qt3's average and smarter than the.man on the street.
Enough about my credentials: you are doing exactly what I would do. you're looking for information that will make working hard easier. The clue is in the name. Its hard work. There's.no simple tactic or solution beyond determination. You can kid yourself that someone people have this Naturally. They don't. They might find it easier, but not by a great deal.
Just put your head down and go for it. Routine will help you manage it, as will writing down what you have to do and why you havent done it if you fail to do it in an appointed time.
No tricks or solutions. Just hard work and soever techniques to monitor yourself.
Also you are probably good at your job. Sometimes I think Im using my mental health situation as an excuse. This is usually while Im in a depressive hole. But I've been diagnosed by the most conservative doctor in the country. If your miss thinks you're good. You probably are. But equally other people aren't specially talented a working hard. So... Swings and roundabout.
I have a similar problem, on occasion. What I do is make public commitments to hit various interim goals and set up those commitments in ways I can't squirm around. If you've agreed to grade papers, tell the students you'll have them back at a specific date. If possible, set up an appointment to talk about the grade. You'll still procrastinate, but you'll amortize that procrastination. Telling someone that you'll have all the boring work done in 10 weeks is way rougher than telling someone you'll do X boring work every 2 weeks.
For this, take the stack of papers along with the absolute minimum you need to grade them to an empty study room at the library (or something similar). IE, go to a place where there's literally nothing else available to distract yourself with.
Originally Posted by erikg88
I'm in the same boat. So much so that your post could have been written by me, Erik - different job but same problems with motivation and my 'real' interest is even writing, though even there I struggle to motivate and produce. I'm writing for living - which is nice - but it's software documentation. Not exactly compelling stuff.
I basically do well enough to keep my head above water at my job - I hit my deadlines, I produce decent work, I get along well with my analysts and colleagues, etc - but outside of deadline-based work for our software releases, I tend to struggle, get distracted, lose focus and motivation, and so on. My boss says I do excellent work when I want to, which is nice, but I can't figure out how to want to when I don't have to. It's like my ambition gene is missing or faulty. I look around at my coworkers who undertake these grand self-directed projects of their own accord, and I can't help wondering how they find it so interesting when I don't or can't. Like I'm missing something that magically makes our jobs fascinating or something.
I recently mentored a young man who works where I do and was having trouble with the college classes he was taking part time. I taught him how to take notes and explained to him that the key to success has nothing to do with smart/not smart--he thought he was the latter. To you the same advice: The key to success is hard work. Success is a thing you do not a thing you get. I hear the first year at Goldman one works 80 hrs a week minimum. Or, like me, you can kick back and say, "Fuck it!" Loafing is the best part of life and sleep is a state of grace. Rich people die crying for their mamas just like everyone else. Why waste time working when you could be loafing?