I have often heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. I have tested that over the years and can report the definition is correct.
In particular, I have had a lifelong habit of waiting until the last minute to do things I either did not want to do or did not know how to do. I remember when I used to keep piles of pink telephone slips on my desk, one pile representing calls I wanted to return, another that had slips of calls I thought could wait, and still another I hoped would somehow just go away. It was this last stack that always caused me the most problems.
But most of all I remember on Saturday mornings when I would often go to my office, clean off my desk, rearrange all the papers and files into neat stacks, and sometimes even put a coat of polish on the desk to make it shine. And then, I would stand back and admire my handiwork. I would then leave, thinking I had really done something good and productive.
I wish I had learned then the art of getting stuff done. Though it is late in the day, I have now learned my lesson. I have found that if there is something I don't wish to do and have put that off, if I just change my thinking about the task by just a small degree, I can go ahead and do it, and then it's done, and I feel so much better. I have found that it's easier to just face things, even unpleasant ones, and smile when I do it.
When I was a kid, I remember an old “Honeymooners” episode on television. Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton (Jackie Gleason and Art Carney) are in a room where Ed is going to play the piano. But before he does, he has to wipe the piano and seat down with a cloth. He hums as he does it, and then he does it again. Finally, after waiting a very long time, Ralph hits him and tells him to play, which of course Ed never does.
I was Ed Norton for too much of my life… getting ready to play, thinking about it, but never really playing. Maybe I didn’t know how to play or want to play or was just bored by it and wanted to do something else.
I have now figured out how nice it is to get stuff done, and one of the secrets to that is to keep lists. Computers make that easy. I can go to the task bar in Microsoft Outlook, type in a few words and voila… I have a list of things to do, and then I can go back and put a line through them when they are done.
But, you know, that is not very satisfying for me. I prefer the written list on a piece of paper. There is something that makes me feel like I have really accomplished something when I can just take a pen or pencil and cross the task off… even if the task was just “making a list”. No matter… I feel better.
Several years ago, a retired Superior Court judge from Fayetteville, Coy Brewer, was attending one of my seminars, and he spoke of a weekend trip to Greensboro. On that trip, he had encountered some doctors who asked him if there was a pill, fully approved by the FDA, that would make the illness of congestive heart failure much less likely, would he take the pill? He of course said yes he would, and they countered that there was already such a pill, and that it was free.
The judge looked confused until they told him; it was simply learning to be an optimistic person… a lifestyle choice that lessened the chance of certain illnesses, in particular congestive heart failure, by reducing a person’s stress level. Medical studies had shown that reducing stress reduced the chance of such a life threatening illness.
That sounds really great, doesn’t it? But what if you don’t feel that way? What if you always see a dark cloud coming? I know it sounds simple, but for me, getting stuff done and not having to think about tasks or jobs I don’t want to do any longer, makes me feel like the world is a better place, and I am more hopeful and optimistic about the day.
It has taken me a long time to figure out the importance of regularly doing things, not waiting until the last possible moment, being organized, living and working in the moment, having fun now, not waiting for the weekend when the phone doesn’t ring and the world slows down. All of this has been made possible by “getting stuff done”. It has made me feel younger.
Now if I could just make it turn my gray hair back to brown...