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Who Am I Today? The Importance of Roles

Who Am I Today? The Importance of Roles
WHo Am I Today? The Importance of Roles

    If you’re anything like me, life keeps you pretty busy. Sometimes — more often than I’d like, actually — it’s hard just to keep straight what day it is, let alone where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.

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    Keeping track of the various roles I play helps keep my head in order and prevent that feeling of being torn into a thousand tiny pieces. Every so often, usually during my version of a weekly review, I flip to an empty page in my notebook and make a list of roles: step-father, partner, teacher, anthropologist, employee, writer, son, friend, brother, brother-in-law, nephew, uncle, citizen. It helps to see it all spelled out like that, and writing it down helps me focus on what I’m accomplishing and what my goals are for each role.

    It might seem obvious, but each role we play has different goals, different standards of achievement. As an employee, I’m concerned with making enough money to pay our bills and but our groceries, but as a step-father I have to leave those concerns aside so I can get on with the business of parenting: encouraging, nurturing, sometimes disciplining, and so on. Likewise, as a teacher, I am constantly measuring my student’s performance and growth, while as I partner I am devoted to appreciating my girlfriend’s many fine qualities as well as her faults.

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    Here’s an example of how I think about some of my roles and what each entails:

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    • Partner: to build a lasting and loving relationship; to openly communicate my feelings and worries; to plan household budgets and chores.
    • Teacher: to encourage the development of critical thinking, writing, studying, and research skills; to help students develop a sense of themselves as citizens and of their place in society; to assess students’ growth and give them guidance where necessary.
    • Anthropologist: to carry out research and communicate my findings to other members of my discipline and to the public; to encourage more informed attitudes about cultural similarity and difference in my society and in my students.
    • Step-father: to offer support and encouragement to my step-children; to make sure their physical and emotional needs are met on a day-to-day basis; to share my values and dreams with my step-children and help them to articulate their own.
    • Writer: to communicate effectively with my audience; to build my audience and seek out new markets for my work; to manage my submissions, payments due and received, tax paperwork, etc. (Technically, “writer” is two roles: one as a person sitting in front of a computer or notepad and writing for others to read, and the other as a person managing his business — I could call that second role “manager” or “entrepreneur”, but I don’t feel like either of those things.)
    • Brother: to offer friendship and support; to lend a hand when needed; to be an uncle to his children.
    • Citizen: to take part in the running of my society by voting, serving on juries, paying taxes (yuck!), obeying the law when possible, breaking the law when necessary; to keep the common good in mind; to engage with the process of governance by writing letters or otherwise working to express my thoughts to my representatives; to view society critically with an eye towards its improvement.

    Those aren’t all my roles, but it’s a good sample. Making my expectations of myself in each role explicit helps me to evaluate how well I’m doing in each role. Are the things I’m doing fulfilling my idea of what my role is? What else should I be doing?

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    While doing this, I try to set a few short-term goals for each role. By spelling out what each role actually is, I can be a little more specific than just saying “I should be a better teacher”. Instead, I can ask specific questions of myself, like “Are my current tests adequately measuring what I ant students to be getting from my class?” If not, my goal might be to rewrite my test, or come up with a better grading rubric to make sure my tests are effective learning tools. Likewise, “be a better brother” is pretty vague, but “help my brother launch his business” gives me a good idea of how, exactly, I can be a better brother.

    Knowing my roles helps me to keep them separated when I need to — something that’s crucial for someone like me whose primary office is in his home. On any given evening, I might have grading to do, a post to write for lifehack.org, an essay to edit for publication, invoices to send out, and so on. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in that stuff and not to be there for my family when they need me. But as much as possible, I try to be “step-father” and “partner” once my girlfriend comes home at 5:30; reminding myself that I’m not in “writer” or “teacher” mode helps me remember what my priorities need to be when I’m “at home” instead of “at work” (even though both are in the same house).

    But working at home isn’t the only situation that can cause confusion about who, exactly, you’re supposed to be at any given moment. Thinking about roles helps keep you focused on the moment and that can be useful for anyone. Take a few minutes now and then to figure out what roles you play, and how well you’re playing them.

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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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