The Satisfactions Of Task Completion

Man Forging Steel
Don’t discount small tasks: they’re the building blocks of accomplishment.

Why do we take inordinate satisfaction from having made the bed? Yes, the room becomes tidier. And yes, we look forward to crawling into a bed that has been made. But there’s even more to it than that, namely: the knowledge that if you can accomplish something – and something mildly tedious at that – first thing out of bed then what you can achieve after a cup of coffee is essentially limitless.

If you commit to making the bed upon waking waking then imagine what what you can accomplish after a cup of coffee.
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A made bed, then, isn’t just nice to look at: it’s a good omen.

I feel like a superhero when making the bed. Not because super heroic to do so, but because I’d so much rather skip it and go directly to coffee. But performing this little task first provides just enough momentum for me to accomplish much more difficult things (like writing this blog post.)

Completing smallest tasks provides the tailwind for completing great ones.
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Genuine accomplishment, whether it’s exercising daily or ridding Europe of totalitarianism, is comprised of smaller (much smaller!) tasks.

For the record, I am by nature a scatterbrain for whom seeing a task through to its conclusion often requires summoning what seems to be a superhuman degree of concentration. Also, I’ve always been enamored of ease, which is a nice way of saying that I’m lazy.

That’s not to say I haven’t accomplished things which have required a certain degree of tenacity and patience. I can get into the flow like most others. I can even be singleminded in my focus, as when a neurological problem robbed me of my juggling act (I had been winner of the International Jugglers Association’s junior championship) and I eventually succeeded in accomplishing what many of my colleagues dream of doing: I became a successful stand-up comedian.

Whenever I lament the inordinate amount of focus required to accomplish things things that need to get done, I like to remind myself of what I’ve accomplished thus far as an entertainer. (Sometimes I indulge a fantasy in which I am formally charged with laziness, to which I respond “Then explain this!,” at which point I do 90-minutes of comedy.)

Finally, some self-awareness comes in handy. If you’re unable to concentrate, going in circles and starting over and over, don’t kick yourself over it. You know who never complains about an inability to focus? People sitting around watching tv all day. (My apologies if tv is no longer a thing.)

In such instances, set the task aside and work on something else, preferably something completely different. If you’re engaged in cerebral work, do something physical like tidying up (I love tidying up as – like a shaved head – it provides a physical reminder that that you’ve accomplished something.) There’s usually something else that needs to be done – do it. When you return to the original task you’ll often find that shift in gears has served you well.

So with New Years resolutions dancing in our heads, don’t overlook the importance of getting started. Even if it means taking a single step.

How do you commit to getting things done? Let me know in a comment below. – D.

Which Way Happiness?

Why do we daily forget what makes us happy - and unhappy?
Why do we daily forget what makes us happy – and unhappy?

Sometimes I like to imagine a little bell going off in my ear when I’m about to do something that will make me less happy. In my mind, it doesn’t happen before making momentous decisions such as weighing whether to quit a job or drop out of college: those decisions are usually accompanied by an extensive weighing of the pros and cons. Instead, this little bell I imagine goes off when our eyes or tastebuds are preoccupied with getting what they want: “Hey! A Cuervo golden margarita!” (bell rings.) “Wow! A meaningless, soon-to-be-forgotten, one-off affair with a beautiful woman trying to seduce me thousands of miles from home! (bell rings.)

In other words, the bell would be ringing when you least expect – and perhaps more often.

As the internet wisely points out, getting drunk is like borrowing happiness from tomorrow. Each day we must make decisions pertaining to everything from what we eat to whom we associate with – and these decisions and countless others impact our happiness.

And we often choose wrong. This is most clearly illustrated in children. Left to their own devices – literally – most kids would rather play video games or watch Netflix all day. Yet how do these children feel when they must invariably cease doing so? They’re miserable. My own kids provide numerous examples. Here’s one: taking baths. They hate it. The very prospect of a bath prompts them to adopt an intolerable whine. A funny thing happens, though, when they’re actually taking a bath: non-stop shrieks of laughter and joy.

It’s a kind of happiness amnesia.

Conversely, the things we find most satisfying are precisely those things which we tend to avoid: getting work done, eating healthfully, making new friends, visiting the sick and lonely.

So there’s a disconnect between what we want and what makes us happy. Importantly, merely being aware of this this disconnect isn’t sufficient to overcome it – it requires vigilance. Adults aren’t much better than children, as you can see from the countless examples of people who can’t get out of their own way when it comes to their weight, their work, their lives.

So the next time you must make a seemingly mundane decision, ask yourself which path would make you happiest, and with practice you may find you’ve develop your own little bell – and that it tends to go off when you least expect it.

People Need To Laugh

magic live pictureEntertainers never tire of compliments. Sure, many are are generic or perfunctory, typically “Good show.” But in the main, compliments, rote or otherwise, are sincere expressions of appreciation.

But from time to time I receive a compliment that really brings home the good I do not only as a comedian but as a man. The compliment goes like this: “I really needed to laugh tonight.”

There’s a moral dimension to comedy. People have problems and many people have serious problems. And many of those people are in the audience. I find it useful to remind myself that doing a good show means I’m doing good. 

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of doing the best show possible: reading the audience, adapting the show, not to mention flights, logistics and technical challenges. These and many more details go into making people laugh. Delivering the bang for your clients’ buck is, after all, what pays the bills.

But as a comedian I find it a useful reminder that people don’t just want to laugh – they *need* to laugh.