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Labor Day Meditation

Labor Day Meditation
Labor Day Meditation

    Today is Labor Day in the United States. A product of the labor movement, Labor Day was established in 1882 (it became a federal holiday in 1894) as a day to celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of American workers — though you’d hardly know it from the drunken barbeques and (non-drunken) white sales that are our preferred means of celebrating the day today. Achievements like the 8-hour workday, child labor laws, paid vacation, health benefits, workplace safety laws, and the right to collectively bargain with employers (who have always collectively managed).

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    In the last few decades, a lot of American labor’s accomplishments have been eroded, some as a result of government deregulation, but possibly more as a consequence of changing market relations, the exportation of most production overseas, and a change in attitude by Americans towards organized labor itself. You’d be hard-pressed today to find an American who works 40 hours; most studies peg the average American work-week at around 55 hours. At the bottom of the economic ladder, many Americans work two jobs to make ends meet; at the top a new crop of “knowledge workers” puts in longer and longer hours to meet the demands of their jobs. Workers at the most attractive companies crow about the amenities — gyms, gourmet cafeterias, video games, dry cleaners, and so on — that make it almost possible for them not to leave work at all.

    With work hours growing longer and productivity skyrocketing (American productivity has more than doubled in the last two decades) you’d think we’d be living pretty high on the metaphorical hog, but the reality is that American wages have been more or less unchanged for decades, and sit at levels far below those of other “developed” nations. Because of rising housing costs, gas prices, and other expenses, even 6-figure professionals are living paycheck-to-paycheck (if they’re not financing their lifestyles with charge cards and high-interest second mortgages).

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    The upshot is, a lot of Americans (and other folks, though the rest of you have wisely decided to celebrate your labor days in the springtime) are turning every which way, sometimes all at once, tying to keep their heads on straight. The rise over the last couple years of blogs and other websites dedicated to personal productivity, time management, and organization testifies directly to the ever-shrinking gap between the amount of work we have and the number of hours we have to do it in — if we’re not already at negative figures. More and more of our business literature reads like self-help; actually, much of it is self-help, because the biggest challenge facing working people these days are primarily psychological: too much work, too little personal space, too much pressure, too little security, too much going out, not enough coming in.

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    So, this Labor Day, I wanted to step back and take a look at some of the bigger principles that inform most of the work we do here at lifehack.org, accompanied by the dozens if not hundreds of other writers that make up the “lifehack-oriented” web. Sort of a “50,000 foot” view of things, to borrow from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. These aren’t hacks, per se, but the ends that the tips, advice, and simple hacks we present here are aimed at achieving.

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    • Work-Life Balance: Today’s workers struggle to find time for family, personal health and fitness, education, hobbies, and other interests, and employers are by and large unmoved by such concerns. Worrying too much about non-work matters has come to be seen as frivolous, undedicated, even disloyal, a fact illustrated by the results of a recent study that found only a tiny percentage of North Americans (USAnians and Canadians) take even the meager two weeks paid vacation most employers allow. Even sick time goes unused in most instances, as employees fear appearing selfish or uncommitted to their work. The lack of time to physically and mentally recuperate leaves us unhappy, burnt out, and subject to further (and likely greater) illness. Finding a healthy balance between our working selves and our personal selves has become a crucial concern for working people, whatever their field.
    • Goals: Closely related to work-life balance is the need to establish goals for ourselves, both as workers and as individuals. Unfortunately, work itself has become many people’s only goal, with no consideration of what we hope working to make possible for us. Since many paychecks leave so little left over after bills, groceries, clothing, gas, and incidental expenses are taken care of, it can come quite easily to seem like we work to make enough to stay alive so we can keep working. Without clear goals, we are left with no yardstick against which to measure our work, or any other activities. It’s no wonder that the treadmill has come to be the preferred metaphor for describing our lives.
    • Personal Space: Our forebears in the labor movement worked hard to make clear separations between our working lives and our personal lives. Today, working at or from home is one of the fastest-growing trends, and technologies like cell phones, mobile email platforms like Blackberries, email, and cheap broadband have made it possible — and often necessary — for workers to be “always on call”. It is not uncommon for people’s homes to become not a refuge from work but an extension of it. How we erect boundaries and delineate spaces that are “just for me”, and what we do with such spaces when (if?) we construct them, is a central worry for many of us.
    • Personal Development: Most of us would like to be better people. For some that means pursuing an education, for others that means taking part in a religious community, for still others that means being more reliable parents and caretakers. For many of us, though, finding the time, money, and resources to commit to our personal growth is an overwhelming challenge. The rise of “quick-fix” solutions — anti-depressants, cosmetic surgery, diet pills, fast-track educational programs, self-help books, get-rich-quick schemes, one-day workshops, and 1-hour DVDs that promise to tell all the secrets of life — offers us something that feels like personal development without straining our budget or our schedules.
    • The Cure for “Consumeritis”: Under the pressure of increased working hours, weakened family ties, and limited opportunities for growth, we find ourselves investing more and more of our identities in the things we can buy. Karl Marx, who knew a thing or two about working lives, regardless of what you think of his politics, wrote that workers who invest ever-increasing portions of their identities in the things they produce for someone else’s profit turn to consumerism in a vain attempt to recapture the pieces of themselves they’ve lost. It’s not surprising that self-storage is one of the US’s fastest-growing businesses. Many of us have found the rewards of consumption and accumulation to be empty and unfulfilling, and seek ways to divorce ourselves from the never-ending cycle of buying, displaying, and ultimately storing or discarding objects of questionable value, and have begun to seek out ways of minimizing the role of consumption in our lives. Finding alternatives, however, is not always easy.
    • Meaningfulness: We want to be more engaged with our communities and the social problems that face them, we want to develop our talents, and we want to reach out to those around us in more meaningful ways. Yet we find that we are increasingly isolated from our neighbors and fearful of the communities in which our children go to school. We distrust both the businesses we patronize and the government that is supposed to protect us. Although some lucky few manage to build careers around their callings, for most of us — especially those with families to support — this simply is not possible. So how else can we cultivate meaningfulness in our lives, and how can we share it with others?

    These are some of the thoughts and questions I’ve come up with on this Labor Day. Not everyone will share these concerns, of course; there are many who have found their own answers to these concerns and are actively pursuing lives that they find rich and fulfilling. Others will have concerns of their own that trump these — just putting food on the table is, alas, a daily struggle in millions of American households, and the failure to do so is felt far more keenly than the lack of personal space or educational opportunities. But I like to think that, in this time of almost obscene plenty, with the total wealth in the US (and the rest of the Western World) growing at rates unheard of in human history, these problems can be overcome and people freed to grow to the limits of their talents and desires. For me, that’s what Labor Day is about, and that’s what lifehack.org and its fellow personal productivity sites are about.

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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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