fight or flight productivity

Why is it that when I have nothing to do, no one to see, plenty of time to myself in order to do exactly everything I’ve always wanted to do…I can’t seem to do any of it? My mind goes completely on holiday. I spend all my time lying around watching TV or reading the net or playing games or just doing nothing.

If I do manage to pull myself together and say “OK, I am NOW going to get all that writing done I said I was going to do when I had some spare time” its like there’s nothing there. Big gaping hole of empty. I stare dully at the screen. I am easily distracted by any little shiny thing. Nothing gets done. And then at the end of my time off I think “Buh? What was that? What just happened here?”

But give me a deadline, put me under pressure, demand things from me, and its like some little switch goes off in my head. I wake up. My mind spins up and focusses in. I become hyper-productive, hyper-organized, hugely creative. The harder the task, the more of a sense of panic I have about it, the better I get at it. And its not just work stuff; alongside the work I’m getting ideas, ideas for fiction and projects and designs and art.

There is a stress point where it all breaks down, where I’m just doing too much and thinking too hard and not sleeping enough. But the point just short of that where I’ve got a bunch of things going on and the day booked up and I’m riding a wave of panic and productivity: that’s the sweet spot. That’s where I can conquer the world.

The secret I suppose is to find some way to get that feeling of fear even when I’m not actually under pressure. This is why I like caffeine so much; it fakes it sometimes even if I’m not under deadlines. Maybe I need to hire someone to make deadlines for me. My deadline dominatrix. “You didn’t write 2000 words today, (thwap) (thwap) (thwap).”

I can’t be the only one who needs some huge shove, a big hypodermic of adrenaline in the chest just to get into first gear. What do other people do?

6 thoughts on “fight or flight productivity

  1. When you find out, let me and everyone else know. I?d really like to hear about it.

    I never get anything whatsoever done except almost literally at gunpoint. In the short timeframe between ?you?re crazy, dude, it?s too late, noone can do that? and it being actually too late, I can achieve superhuman productivity. After slipping three deadlines, with two days left until the next and serious consequences if I miss it, I can spin up some sort of mental turbocharger (like being in the flow, except an order of magnitude faster) and write several thousand lines of dense code, with an impromptu framework design, all quite clean with very few bugs. (I?m not exaggerating.)

    The rest of the job? The details and cleanups and bugfixes? Can take months to happen after I made the deadline. Most of the time I literally do nothing. Puttering around on the web (like now) is about as much as I do. I have dozens of ideas for projects I want to embark on someday, some of them almost a decade old, that remain nothing but ideas.

    I wish I knew how to activate that obvious latent ability, even a fraction of it, in any other way than using primal fear.

  2. I promise people that I’ll get something done by a certain time, and I hate to let them down. So I do.

    This does not help me for things that are purely self-indulgent. But it does motivate me to get things done.

  3. I have the same problem of needing a deadline to get anything done. I know many deadlines are artificial. If I can intuit that a deadline is artificial, I might not do the task even with the deadline.

    To break this habit I am focusing on two things:
    1) looking at my GTD lists more frequently
    2) reading my GTD project outcomes more frequently

    My guess is that maybe I need to look at my lists more frequently to remember that I need to do stuff. Maybe I really don’t know what I can do in this moment, a little refresher might be needed.

    And I want to look at my project outcomes more frequently to get motivated to do stuff. I might see just how great it would be to have this particular outcome happen.

    Wish me luck. If anyone has any better ideas let me know.

  4. On the other hand, putting yourself on a deadline all the time – even an artificial one – could end up with you having a mental breakdown.

    At least, that’s how I console myself when the same thing happens to me. I needed the down-time. Needed it!!

  5. You just described me to a “T”. Very funny to read. I have yet to find a way to deal with it. I went as far as to go to the doctor to talk about adult ADD – but came up empty handed. When the preasure is on I can focus like mad … but when it is not I am like a drifter walking aimlessly down the road. As far as caffeine goes – I am a junky. But, I also find like you that it gives me that kick I usually need. to get motivated and moving … in a non-motivational situation.

  6. Identify what your drivers are, then make a public daily spectacle of them. For me, the drivers are money and public humiliation. That’s why I added the “Fat Cyclist Sweepstakes” to my blog, as well as a daily posting of my weight. Now, if I don’t get accomplish something toward my long-term goal on a daily basis, everyone knows about it, and I’m forced to give a complete stranger my money. It’s definitely a sign of a seriously screwed-up personality that I have to do this to myself, but I have lost 15 pounds in two months.

Comments are closed.