Combatting Boredom and Delay

Monday, February 24, 2014

Vacation time for the Van Horn family is over and a couple of difficult projects, each with its own share of tedious steps, await me. Fortunately, I happened upon a couple of good blog postings that will help me work more effectively.

The first I encountered this weekend as I started catching up with my email In "Keep It Interesting", Jean Moroney offers advice on how to maintain focus by overcoming boredom. For example:

One idea is to take a quick timeout to pick favorites. If you're in a meeting, what do you like best about the person speaking? Or the meeting setup? If it's a project, what is your favorite task? What do you think is most important about the project? You can stop to pick favorites anytime, anywhere. It takes only a moment, but it gives you an important mental refresh. [emphasis in original]
Moroney, whose Thinking Directions course and site I have mentioned here from time to time, has long offered advice like this through a newsletter, but now also does so through a blog. Links to new installments will show up automatically on my blogroll from now on. (Click "View All" to see the link if it is not on the short list of most recent posts from other blogs.)

Second, and of longer-range use than tackling an immediate problem with boredom, is an entry from the blog of the Harvard Business Review by Heidi Grant Halvorson, titled, "How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don't Want To". This post offers advice on tackling procrastination. One strategy I find particularly intriguing is the following:
There are two ways to look at any task.  You can do something because you see it as a way to end up better off than you are now - as an achievement or accomplishment.  As in, if I complete this project successfully I will impress my boss, or if I work out regularly I will look amazing. Psychologists call this a promotion focus - and research shows that when you have one, you are motivated by the thought of making gains, and work best when you feel eager and optimistic.  Sounds good, doesn't it?  Well, if you are afraid you will screw up on the task in question, this is not the focus for you.  Anxiety and doubt undermine promotion motivation, leaving you less likely to take any action at all.

What you need is a way of looking at what you need to do that isn't undermined by doubt - ideally, one that thrives on it.  When you have a prevention focus, instead of thinking about how you can end up better off, you see the task as a way to hang on to what you've already got- to avoid loss... [emphasis in original]
This reminds me of Ayn Rand's definition of value as, "that which one acts to gain and/or keep" [my emphasis]. Note with the "prevention focus" the crucial, but not necessarily obvious difference between avoiding loss and avoiding punishment (which is a poor motivator): The focus is firmly on how one can act to defend values one has already obtained. That is, both kinds of focus are value-based, and therefore positive, but if a prospective gain seems too difficult or abstract, the prospect of losing something tangible can provide better motivation.

That said, I would have to think more about Halvorson's other advice before saying which aspects I agree or disagree with. (For example. I wouldn't leave negative emotions unexamined for too long, not that Halvorson necessarily advises that.) Nevertheless, she has lots of interesting things to say.

-- CAV

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