Contrasting Work Ethics

 

an advance planner

an early planner

I once heard those who plan ahead choose long periods of nagging pain, while those who procrastinate prefer short bursts of intense agony.

a procrastinator

a procrastinator

My marriage serves as an example.

I shake my head in disbelief when Joel roars around two minutes before he has to leave: searching for his keys, finding his glasses, unearthing his cell phone, assembling his papers, and thinking I know where they are but won’t tell.

He, on the other hand, questions my need to keep the gas tank topped off, make extensive lists for everything I do, and start packing my suitcase a week before we leave for a trip. “Why,” he asks, “do you worry and work sooner than you have to?”

Conversations with friends and acquaintances about writing also illustrate the divide between the tortoise and the hare.

I know I’m talking to a procrastinator when I’m asked, “What’s it like to meet the newspaper deadline for your column and your self-imposed deadline for your blog every week, month after month, with no break? That kind of pressure would drive me crazy.”

I agree: if I were awake at midnight the day before a deadline, sitting at my computer with the word count hovering below the required minimum, and unable to think of nouns—never mind metaphors—I’d be bonkers.

But I’m the student who studied slowly and methodically for tests several days in advance rather than pulling all-nighters and the teacher who decided before going to bed what I’d wear to work the next day. I renew my prescriptions as soon as possible and note important dates on my calendar well in advance: schedule a hair appointment, spray the aphids, submit a column by 9:00.

So, in accordance with my compulsions, I write at least a month in advance and usually have two columns and four blogs ready for publication. While others are thinking about Halloween costumes, I’m polishing a piece about cooking Thanksgiving dinner or choosing Christmas presents.

I like knowing I could go to bed with inflamed tonsils, sail on a cruise ship to Antarctica, or slip into several weeks of mindless sloth without my column and blog fading into oblivion.

My habit of planning in advance and tackling my tasks in stages doesn’t allow me to feel smug, however. Over the years, I’ve learned that doing  quality work in a punctual manner matters more than whether it’s accomplished in a day of focused activity or weeks of gradual work.

Still, I wonder why the man I love can’t see the wisdom in planning several meals and shopping for them in advance, rather than deciding what to have for dinner and shopping after work with five-hundred fellow procrastinators—my idea of intense agony.

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49 thoughts on “Contrasting Work Ethics

  1. I am a strange hybrid of this. For most things, I am a crazy planner. Plan meals for the whole week? Check. Elaborate packing lists broken into subcategories? Check. A planner that is color-coded? Check. But doing any sort of written work requires me to pretend that the task doesn’t exist, then gnash my teeth and rend my clothing, and finally finish the whole damn thing in a last minute push fueled by stress and adrenaline. I don’t understand you people who gets things done in stages!

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    • What a funny (gnashing teeth, rending clothes, etc.) and interesting comment, Lori. I would have guessed the planning ahead but not the last-minute frenzy of writing. Where would you say your mom, sister, and husband fall on the continuum?

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      • Mom is a bit better than me in terms of writing, but tends to plan less in daily life. I have no idea where Shawna falls! My husband is a planner, and ALSO a methodical worker. When he was writing his masters thesis he sat down and would write 2 pages a day. I do not understand this, as I sat down and wrote the entire draft of my 80 page undergraduate thesis in 5 days. It was perhaps the least fun Spring Break I have ever had.

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      • I find I’m unduly interested in the working habits of others, and I appreciate your feeding my curiosity. I think of myself as so similar to Barbara, butin many ways we are vastly different. Did Jon wander around looking smug while you ruined your spring break, or is he a better person than I?

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  2. The Marriage of the Ant and the Grasshopper by Aunt Beulah. 🙂

    Because I’ve been stereotyped as a creative and spontaneous person, during my work life it was also generally believed I was disorganized and messy and prone to procrastination. I do not procrastinate EVER (except in matters of buying a snow shovel) and my home and work area have to be neat and organized or I can’t “create” anything. It boggled my mind how people could regard me as walking chaos knowing I taught 7 classes and wrote 2 novels during the last 15 years of my career as well as painting and selling art. They should have been saying, “Wow, she must be really organized to get all that done!”

    As for the gas tank — my dad used to say (I offer this to you as a possible response) “It’s just as easy to drive off the top of the tank as the bottom.”

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    • Great title, Martha, I wish I’d thought of it. I had a dear friend who taught next door to me for many years who was the victim of the same sort of stereotyping as you and with equal misunderstanding of what it takes to be creative and artistic. I will use the gas tank comment at the first opportunity. Thank you.

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  3. I’m a list and calendar maker, a menu planner but I maintain it’s a learned grown-up response to my creative, spontaneous nature. I know I am distractible and suffer from a short attention span. If something is not written down, I’m afraid I’ll forget.to do it and that worries me. I even make a little “lesson plan” for my week so I know what tasks I want to accomplish, what appts are up and what’s for dinner. I admire your ability to write ahead of deadline. I start a week or so out, but keep tweaking until the last minute.

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    • Lorie, your comment surprises me: when we worked together, I thought of you as creative and spontaneous, never as distractible with a short attention span. Just as I’ve found ways to be creative in the moment and comfortable with my husband’s spontaneity, it sounds like you learned long ago to cope with your distractibility. I guess that’s what we grownups do!

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  4. I, too, like to be organised. Probably teaching taught me a lot. Now my diary helps me organise my life, as my short term memory isn’t what it was. I do like to order the wood well in advance and know that we have enough tins in the cupboard for emergencies. My beloved likes to plan too, so we are on the same track, though there are times he’ll expect me to know where his things are when he’s rushing for an appointment! 🙂

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    • I’m with you, Barbara. As my short-term memory has decreased, my lists and calendar notations have increased. And do you find, as do I, that many times you know where the items are your husband is seeking

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  5. My muse cannot abide mess, and slips out the window if I need to vacuum…I am O.C.D. on my morning routine, and refuse to squander a minute of time off. Thus, I have never lived with another person, I enjoy cooking supper at three in the morning, most stories I write in my bed, a sea of scrap paper, who could live with it?Thanks for the insights of how people do.

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    • So now I know how to picture you at work: in bed after a very late night supper, surrounded by papers filled with your wonderful writing, scribbling away on some new Godfrey saga. I like thinking of you that way; it’s much more intriguing than my highly conventional approach to writing.

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      • Thanks Janet, you are spot on, being a minimalist, (Aka Poor) my computer desk is an ice chest and my end table a case of toilet paper, some one recently tried to give me a set of dishes, but I had to explain that I have a plate and bowl, your highly conventional approach is just fine to.

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      • Sheila, you remind me of something wise I read or heard somewhere long ago; it seems it was someone famous who said it, but I can’t remember,and I’m not sure I have the words exactly right. Anyway, I think of it often, try to practice it, and fail. The saying: “My greatest strength is wanting little.” I admire you.

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  6. I tend to procrastinate and I’ve researched methods to overcome this folly. I wonder if it’s nature vs nurture but whatever, I continue to fight the tendency with brief periods of improvement. I admire proactive people – they’re my heroes.

    Today – my typical day: Bed made, newspaper read, coffee drank. Let the cat out. I’m going to sit in the winter sunlight and complete a long-ago started album. I’m excited about the beautiful supplies that are organized on the table. I notice dust bunnies rolling around in the sunlight Let the cat in. I sweep under the table and decide to sweep the rest of the room and hall. I put clean towels in the bathroom and start a load of wash. Let the cat out.
    Hooray, it’s Tuesday and there’s a new Aunt Beulah post. After an hour reading and planning a comment, a friend calls, we talk 45 minutes and make plans for a Friday movie. Put clothes in the dryer. Answer the door – no, I don’t need my house number painted on the curb. Now I’m hungry.

    Watch a recorded “House Hunters International” while I eat lunch. Set TV to record 2 evening programs because I’ll be busy with my project. Let the cat in. I’d better move a more comfortable chair to the table since I’ll be sitting there for hours. The mail’s delivered and I spend 30 minutes looking at a Coscto flyer and tossing junk mail. Checked Aunt Beulah again and enjoyed the comments. Had to read the 40+ comments she received after she was posted on Freshly Pressed.

    Finally, I paste a few photos to mats. I’m really going to get this done. The phone rings and my granddaughter is calling from DC, cold, and sick of winter, as she walks home from the Metro on icy streets, carrying heavy groceries. I listen, empathize, let the cat out, and assure her Spring will eventually arrive.

    The sun’s going down and I turn on the lights. I’d better turn on the news and see if the rest of the world is hunkering down in their bunkers. Nope. Feed the cat.

    Check email, read more Aunt Beulah comments, and a funny post on Worzelodd’s page. Eat dinner. Now, I’ve spent the evening writing this overly long manifesto. Tomorrow I’ll follow my 2015 guiding word, completion. But, I keep thinking about the words, mindless sloth, and they feel familiar.

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    • Well, I’m not going to stop reading blogs and comments because that’s the favorite part of my day. I AM going to listen to others with short term memory issues and try their ideas to organize and stay focused. Whew.

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      • I’m hooked on reading blogs and comments as well and wouldn’t want to give it up. As for short term memory issues, I sympathize with the dilemma. My solution is lists, calendars, and forgiving myself when I forget.

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    • I absolutely love this delightfully detailed, funny glimpse into the life of procrastinator because there are many days when your description fits my life as well. Also, there is the bonus of being able to picture the cat, the house, the granddaughter, even the sweeper you used. And you know what? Your day sounds fun: involved with others and the freedom to do what you feel like doing. I think many of my readers would agree.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t procrastinate, but I do spend a lot of time thinking through a project before I start to work on it. Not that I never change my plans in the middle, but it is comforting to have a lot of information in my head about the finished product as I begin. This applies to writing, woodturning, ranch maintenance, and “honey-dos.”

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    • My mom used to take the old saying about carpenters — measure twice;cut once — and adapt it for me — think twice; do it once — a lesson that I needed. And one that I finally learned, though now and then I regress. So I admire your approach.

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  8. Thanks again Janet- sounds like Thoreau, a hero of mine, read, or was told a story long ago of a chap who’s only possession was his cup, one day drinking at a well was a man drinking from cupped hands, so he gave away the cup. I have my Sierra Cup, purchased in 1979, remember those?

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    • Is there anything you don’t know? While brushing my teeth last night, I remembered that my quote did, indeed, come from Thoreau. I like your story. It’s a good one. I used to backpack with a Sierra Cup, feeling quite trendy and righteous. I don’t know what became of it.

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  9. Opposites attract :). I am a compulsive list-maker too. I make lists of the additional lists I need to make…and promptly lose track of them. Perhaps my opposite husband and I have rubbed off on each other more than I’d noticed over the past 35 years 🙂

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    • I think opposites do attract, and if they figure out how to live with the differences, become a balance for one another. Also, I need to tell you that I keep thinking about your latest post on how to help those who are hurting. It touched me deeply.

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  10. As you have confessed to be interested in people’s work habits I can’t resist to give you mine, too. Although: I am not a writer but a project manager in a TelCo environment… can’t be helped 🙂
    Planning and tracking are my middle names. It is what I do love doing. Planning though for me is something that does change – when I am running a project the plan is what I work with most and it might change on a detailed level on a daily basis. But having a plan is wonderful, fulfilling for me as it is having my day organised overall. And then comes the dark side. The second I leave the office things change. It is as if I need to balance out my organised self. I never will lay out cloths the night before unless I have to get up in the middle of the night to catch a flight. I don’t plan my meals (which in Europe where I can walk to the shops within 3 minutes is probably different from the States…) – how shall I know what I will fancy in a day’s time? But it does not put me in a frenzy neither.
    I think the differentiating factor is if I regard something as relevant, if I need to do it for some purpose. If that’s the case I will plan and organise it in one way or another. If not I am a happy camper and go with the flow.

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  11. The pleasure is mine! Your blog is brilliant not only because of its skilled writing but because it indeed involves and motivates to participate and feed back.

    With respect to the topic above- I’m not sure if I get the balance right when I look into the flabbergasted eyes of my partner while I am happily going with the flow… It took him years to talk about it and me to recognize that I have two different behaviors without consciously switching between them. By now we are both mainly amused about that 😃

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  12. Sheila, as I continue to read the past several years of posts on “The Collected Wisdom of Godfrey”, I’m so amazed at your rich imagination and the emotions if feel as I read your rhyming words. You say you are a minimalist. I’m reminded of a quote: “Some people are so poor, all they have is money”. To me, you are rich in the best way.

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  13. Hmmm, this didn’t post where I intended. For those who don’t know, Sheila writes as worzelodd. I suggest reading and then re-reading a post until you feel the clever rhyming. I’m so grateful that Janet led me to the story of Godfrey.

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  14. As a high school student I sometimes wrote papers and completed homework assignments on the bus the morning those assignments were due. In college, many times I burned the midnight oil studying for exams. My husband, Tim, was the exact opposite as a student; he was meticulously prepared for every assignment and test.
    As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve discovered the joy of organization and of following the old girl scout motto: “Be prepared.”
    Therefore, in our home life Tim and I are mostly in sync when preparing for projects, tasks, travel, etc.

    But… my procrastinating tendencies still surface when writing my blog. I only prepare one entry at a time, and I’ll usually sit down at the computer one afternoon, spend several hours coming up with thoughts and pictures, and then write the post. I would love to be more like you, Janet—having several posts (thoughtfully) written and ready to go. Any suggestions?

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    • Oh, Rita, I would never presume to advise you on your blog. I think it’s well written and the photographs and text complement each other nicely, so why would you worry about it? Unless you’d like to start blogging on a more frequent basis, which would interfere, perhaps with your other activities and travels. Now that wasn’t much help, was it? PS I loved the detail in your comment about your college years and your contrast with the way Tim studied.

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  15. I’m a hybrid, I guess. I wish I could write blog posts months ahead of time and have them in waiting. I do the planning part – I make lists with dates and put them on a calender – its the follow thru that’s tricky …….

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    • Oh, yes, the follow through. I think that the depth and length of your excellent posts take more time to follow through to completion than does my column-type writing. But they are so worth waiting for. I’m thrilled when I go to your blog and discover a new post. So I would say, keep doing what you’re doing!

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  16. This made me chuckle as I was going to suggest your husband might start to grasp the purpose of planning meals etc ahead if it were left entirely to him.

    However, after observing both my sister, and men I have dated, I know that people who don’t plan survive just as well, if not better, than we who make our mountainous lists!

    At university I was the one up at 3am the night of the deadline typing an essay furiously, yet all around me my things were organised, the pantry well stocked and my calendar clearly marked. Tortoise-hare hybrid.

    I do enjoy your posts. Glad I found your blog, and looking forward to the next one.

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    • I’m glad you found my blog as well, and I’ll visit yours soon. You do sound like a tortoise-hare hybrid (that phrase has a ring to it!) which is probably something we should all aspire to. And, I think you’re on to something about my husband taking menus and shopping trips more seriously if he were in charge.

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