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Bringing in the Harvest

Bringing in the Harvest

Bringing in the Harvest

    To all our American readers, I and the rest of the Lifehack team wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings today.

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    I wanted to avoid the typical, clichéd, count-your-blessings-what-are-you-thankful-for posts. You all know that. Grade school kids know that. Heck, the unborn already know that. So let’s take it as a given that you’re deeply considering your blessings and what you have to be thankful for today. At least during the commercials, if nobody’s yelling.

    (Non-US’ers may not be aware of how we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US. First, there’s enough food to feed a small country – weird food, though, food we don’t eat any other time of the year except maybe Christmas: turkey – deep-fried, roasted, or stuffed with a chicken that’s stuffed with a duck – stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, and something odd that an aunt or great-grandmother comes out of retirement once a year to cook. While that’s all getting magically cooked by our mothers, aunts, and grannies, the rest of the family either a) watches a big American football game, b) argues viciously, or c) alternates between “a” and “b”.)

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    But what’s got me thinking today is not so much the “thanksy” part of Thanksgiving, but the timing. Thanksgiving is, first and foremost, a harvest festival. That’s what the Pilgrims were supposedly giving thanks for – their first harvest in this new land. Every agricultural society in the world has a similar festival. After the crops are in and the hay laid up and the grain stored and the herds brought in and the work of the farm is done, there’s a festival, an opportunity to thank whatever god or gods a people consults on such matters and to celebrate the end of another year’s hard work and to prepare for the quiet months to come.

    Ironically, Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the US just as the agrarian lifestyle it celebrates was entering its final decline. It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, as the Civil War which gave the US’s industrial revolution its running start raged. After the Civil War, farming would be increasingly industrialized, and the vast bulk of America’s population would leave the farm and migrate to the city, to lives of factory and service work. Today, fewer than 2% of Americans work in agriculture.

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    Which is to say that the majority of us lead lives that are no longer defined by the annual cycle of planting and harvesting, summer bustle and winter quietude. Our harvests are no longer brought in every Autumn; instead, we sow and we reap throughout the year.

    What strikes me about Thanksgiving, then, is that this is a holiday about finishing, about congratulating yourself and your community for a job well done. The Thanksgiving story with the Pilgrims and the Indians is a myth, of course, a story we tell ourselves to give ourselves some kind of grounding in the world, to explain who we are. But it’s a good myth – it tells of a people who looked at what they’d done and realized that they’d accomplished something. They were so excited about what they’d done that they couldn’t resist showing off a little, inviting their neighboring Indians to see (much like thousands of Americans will spend tonight giddy with excitement over the new widescreen television they’ve installed in the living room for tomorrow’s game, knowing that there friends and family will see that they’ve accomplished something).

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    It’s important to celebrate our accomplishments like that. It’s too bad that in today’s world of cool reserve and ironic detachment, too often we downplay our achievements, even to ourselves. We resist sharing our triumphs with others, for fear of being seen as bragging, boastful, “too big for our britches”, a show-off.

    This is unfortunate because the festival not only marked the end of the harvest, it gave farmers the energy and incentive they needed to slog though the dreadfully difficult work of tending and reaping their crops. We should allow ourselves the same benefit, but instead we sap away our motivation by downplaying the things that are most important to us.

    I guess what I’m saying boils down to this: while we’re giving thanks tomorrow for a harvest that we didn’t bring in tomorrow, maybe we should be thinking of the harvest we did bring in. And maybe we should be giving ourselves permission to have a little Thanksgiving throughout the year, to learn from the Pilgrims and mark our achievements as they happen – and share the bounty with our families and neighbors. Count your blessings if you must, but be sure to count your successes in the list, the projects you’ve completed, the steps both large and small you’ve taken towards your goals, and yes, your own harvests.

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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