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  • That Insurmountable Wall of Work Is Made Up of Little Tiny Bricks (That Can’t Hurt You)

That Insurmountable Wall of Work Is Made Up of Little Tiny Bricks (That Can’t Hurt You)

Procrastination is just psychology ganging up on you like a bunch of mean cheerleaders

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A group of cheerleaders

Are these cheerleaders actually attractive, or is psychology ganging up on you? — created in Midjourney

A few weeks ago I started a new strategy for freeing up blocks of time to write. Until then I had been doing what I consider ‘work’ whenever it came up. Emails, requests for meetings… deal with immediately. It gave me a clean desk, but it didn’t give me large blocks of uninterrupted time to stare out of a window while composing brilliant prose.

So a new strategy. I would have two ‘working’ days a week, and the rest would be writing days. 

“Sanjay, you’re brilliant!” I thought, as I imagined writing an article about my brilliant new strategy. 

Todo list: Buy a thesaurus

I got lots of writing done for three days. Then I had a miserable day of tax filings and scheduled meetings. Then a few more days of writing bliss. Then… I took a week’s vacation and happily snoozed all my work to the following Monday. 

Vacation was great. I had great swaths of unbroken time that quickly got filled up. I met a girl named Margarita, and she was a hard 10.

Todo list: Design emoji for wiggling your eyebrows

When Monday arrived, I opened my laptop to a solid wall of over 50 snoozed work emails. I got up from my computer to get a Coke Zero. I didn’t come back. 

I played some video games. I had lunch with a friend. I answered some text messages. I couldn’t deal with the wall of work emails.

You know the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts?” It’s supposed to be a good thing. For example, there’s the cheerleader effect. When you see one woman, you’ll evaluate her as an individual. But when you see a group, you evaluate the group.

A crass male, totally unlike myself, might rate a woman as a 6 or a 7 — but will rate an entire group of them as a 9 or 10. And then, without looking at the individual women, he’ll think of them all as 9s or 10s. 

To be fair, cheerleaders are usually moving quite quickly, and tilting, and upside down some of the time, but you’re still not even trying to take a good hard look at their faces, are you?

Todo list: Complain to customer service that AI can’t make pictures of average looking cheerleaders

I’m sure there’s a similar effect for firefighters, or men in business suits, but they don’t tend to gather at the sites of popular social events and put on a show, so it’s called a cheerleader effect, not the investment banker effect. There is an investment banker effect, but it’s related to having a net negative effect on society, and could also be called the Lawyer effect, or the Twitter effect. Or the Men in Charge effect.

My work problem was a result of the cheerleader effect, except in this case “greater than the sum” meant a hell of a lot more difficult.

The items in my work list of emails, todos, and post-it notes would each be easy to deal with. But the combined total of 50 such items seemed 10/10 hard. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do.

Then I read an article on Medium about decision making and it said when considering what to do in a situation, consider what circumstances led you to being in the situation in the first place.

Todo list: Ask myself, “how did I get here?”

The circumstances leading up to me being overwhelmed were an amazing vacation, but I’ve taken vacations before and this hasn’t happened. No, the thing that had changed was my decision to postpone work so I could focus on writing. And now I wasn’t doing any work or any writing. 

I was blinded. By the flash. Of the obvious. 

Eyesight restored, I opened up an email, read it, checked my calendar, and responded ‘no’ to an invitation to an event (30 seconds). Opened up another email, forwarded it to my accountant with a note (30 seconds). 

All of those problems that had an aggregate appearance of 9s and 10s turned out to be 1s and 2s when broken apart.

A couple of years ago I was in financial shock from $20 million in investment losses, and feeling insecure about the future. After a few days of sleepless nights and staring at a 10/10 hard problem, I took the smallest step. I made a list of my obligations.

I discovered the situation was bad, and I had a bunch of commitments that I had to say no to. Charitable donations. Investments. Million dollar checks, as opposed to cancelling my subscription to Disney Plus. It meant changing the course I thought my life would take. 

Todo list: Cancel my Disney Plus subscription

Big decisions, but it started with making a list. That’s all, just making a list.

And so it is with everything challenging. It starts with opening your laptop. sharpening a pencil, making some notes. Break down the big scary 10/10 monster into little 1/10 bite sized pieces. 

Todo list: Buy some delicious bite-sized chocolates.

Those cheerleaders may look unapproachable all together, but if you approach just one girl with a pom pom, she’ll be a lot less threatening to your ego. 

Todo list: Tell my wife this is a joke, not a plan

Don’t let psychology gang up on you. Don’t let the overall image fool you into thinking something is more attractive or more daunting than it actually is. 

Go sharpen a pencil. Make a list. Answer just one email. 

Todo list: Get to work.

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