Ducks and horses

The Backstory:

Yesterday a friend and I were discussing the recent NYU-Replyallcalypse and he got stuck on one of the goofy Reply-All messages sent to the giant list of recipients. (Really, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link I provided.) To poke him a little, I whipped off an email response in blog post format. Although it was intended to be a wry attempt at humor, I wondered if it might have real merit when I re-read it this morning. You can decide for yourself.

My Wry-Attempt-At-Humor-But-Hey-Wait-It-Might-Have-Legs Response:

Would you rather fight a 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? You’re probably laughing at the absurdity of this question, but I’ll bet you find yourself revisiting it throughout the day, however unwillingly. After a while, you’ll realize that you are taking up precious brain power pondering a what-if that has about a zero percent chance of becoming reality.

Even if you don’t think about mutant ducks and horses all day long, I’ll bet you tie up your brain waves pondering scenarios that probably won’t come true. All of us do it—and it’s probably a healthy exercise if we can keep it in check—but when we’re thinking of stuff like that, what AREN’T we thinking of?

When you’re worrying about ducks and horses [insert your favorite diversion here], chances are you’re NOT thinking about your customers and how to help them make their lives better. Or your business and how to do what you do more effectively. Or how to nurture your kids’ talents. Or what to make for dinner. Or, or, or.

Personally, one of my favorite diversions is what-if-I-had-done-this-differently-way-back-when. I ruminate about how my life might look today if I had just answered that one question differently, or chosen a different major in college, or taken a different job. While I’m sure there’s something to be learned in hindsight, I’m sure I spend way too much time on the what-ifs I can’t recapture rather than the ones I can actually make happen today.

The next time you find yourself thinking about ducks and horses, use them to propel yourself into productivity.

Content follows form

Over time, I’ve come to believe strongly that content follows form. That is, if you go through the motions, get in the right habits, build the right structure, it’s a lot easier to fill that structure with meaningful substance. It almost comes naturally at that point.

Simply put, it’s a lot easier to be the person you want to be if you put on the trappings of that persona. Re-read both my Dress for Success posts if you want a quick reminder of what I mean. You’ll find them HERE and HERE.

As I take on more projects outside of my “official” job–freelance writing, committees, local support, kid stuff–I’ve been forced to confront the corollary to that theory: it’s pretty hard to do the work when I’m not “dressed” for it.

It’s easy enough to be in a work mindset when I’m in the office, sitting behind my desk in a dress and heels. Everything around me screams “Let’s get this done!” While I finish some days more productive than others, there’s no question that I’m in work mode.

The minute I walk in the door of my house, though, it’s a different story. A million other distractions scream for my attention: kids, running, laundry, dinner, that yummy yogurt place that’s only a bike ride away, surfing on the iPad, checking the chipmunk bucket*. If I’m still able to entertain thoughts of productive outside-activity, any remaining vestiges of those thoughts vanish as soon as my dress hits the dry cleaning pile and I’m ambling about in shorts and barefoot. Instant status: home mode.

With my mounting pile of outside commitments, I need to find a new way to get things done. Work mode won’t fly at home, and home mode won’t get things that feel sort-of-like-work-but-aren’t-what-I-get-paid-to-do done. I need to find a solution, and fast.

I’m fairly certain that the answer hearkens back to my beliefs about dressing for success; I just need to find the right wardrobe. In order for me to get these non-work, non-home things done, I need to define a new, non-work, non-home “wardrobe.” Rather than specific attire, in this case my wardrobe will more likely look like a specific routine or accoutrements: one particular place in the house that I come to identify with getting things done, some particular parameters about how I approach it, maybe even a specific time frame. Once I get those things set up, it will be a lot easier to fill in the remaining spaces with substantive accomplishments. Like putting on my running clothes signals a Pavlovian response in my legs to go, go, go, approaching my home workspace will soon trigger a response to write, plan, achieve. Content does follow form; I’ve seen it happen too often to believe otherwise.

Of course, another part of that formula is accountability. Ask me in a couple of weeks how it’s going.

*If you know me well, you’ll understand this chipmunk reference. If you don’t, it’s probably better that way.