Needing Inspiration: A Fool’s Errand
I can’t tell you how often I hear from clients and friends “I just need to get inspired” followed by “to (insert: something you need to do but don’t want to do).” Everyone seems to think that if they just found inspiration they would get done what needs to get done. In the context of creativity or self-expression this makes sense. But if you are like me, will you ever really be “inspired” to do bookkeeping, clean out my fridge, delete files from your hard drive, or do anything else so tedious? The reality is I’ll likely never be inspired to do these things, but they still need to get done. So searching for inspiration is a fools errand.
It Sure Sounds Good
But seeking inspiration sounds oh so enticing. In our minds we have a romantic image of a geyser like Old Faithful suddenly bubbling into a giant burst of energy that would propel us into action to slay our list of tedious to-dos. This might make for an excellent Successories poster or Hallmark card but thinking you need to be inspired to do anything will severely limit what is possible for you in your career and personal life. Letting go of this paradigm will unlock lots of possibilities.
Really successful people in almost any field have let go of the need to be inspired as a condition for being responsible and getting things done. No matter who you are or what you do there are a pile of tasks that are necessary but not enjoyable. People I really admire have the ability to sit down, focus, and with brute force JUST DO IT. They don’t whine or get emotional or think they deserve a Purple Heart for doing their job. Instead, they just buckle down, focus, and get through these things as quickly as possible. They are emotionless, like machines, cranking away until the job is done. I saw many great examples of this when I was a management consultant. I was amazed at how unfazed our Partners would be at taking care of things, and they did so expeditiously with intense focus. Unlike what I had often done (resist, lament, complain, avoid) they dove in, got it done, and moved on to better things like calling their family, visiting the gym, getting a drink at the hotel bar.
Energizing vs. Inspiration
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about doing things for yourself and teams that leave you refreshed, clear, present and open. Taking time to meditate, celebrate, relax, work on yourself, enjoy laughs with others are all fantastic, and they are what I’d call ‘energizing practices.’ Energizing is about fueling your tank and scrubbing the bugs off your windshield. Do these things, often. Just don’t confuse them with inspiration. Taking care of yourself is a key part of being a responsible and sustainable leader, but it merely makes performance possible. Great people show up and get it done, no matter if they feel like it or not, day after day, and being energized gives you a bit of a tailwind to keep you going. However, being energized will still leave you uninspired to tackle the undesirable.
Here are a few things I’ve found have helped me actually get done what I have no interest in doing, in particular when I feel zero inspiration:
- Do it first - if I have 10 to-do’s on my list for the day, rather than tackle my favorite or easiest task, I slay the one I am least interested in, making everything else that day seem like a proverbial macaroon.
- Stay focused - key to not getting bogged down is working with speed. Do yourself a favor and put your smart phone on silent and place if face down, disable any gchat or email pop-ups, log out of Facebook, and put headphones on so others are less likely to interrupt you - and find yourself flying through your sucky tasks.
- Make promises - tell a friend or colleague what you are going to get done and by when, then ask them to hold you accountable by calling to ask if you got it done. Bonus: put something on the line in case you don’t get it done (e.g. I’ll give you 50 bucks if I don’t do this on-time).
- Reward yourself - give yourself a reward for getting your uninspired tasks done. Example: after you get your taxes prepared, treat yourself to a massage, or a new pair of running shoes, or concert tickets.
- Break it down - if you have something that seems both tedious and insurmountable, break it down into chunks, then slay one chunk a day rather than try to do it all at once. This is a key tenant of project and task management in general.
What do you do to get things done even when you don’t feel inspired? Comment below!
Photo Credit: Smith, R. (1998). [Photo - Old Faithful in Winter]. Retrieved from http://www.uusatrg.utah.edu/RBSMITH/public_html/IMAGES/Gallery/of.html