A Productivity Lesson From my Mother

5 min read

If you’ve spent any time in the past talking to productivity gurus, or reading their content, one lesson that you come across a lot is advice on how to avoid procrastination and get stuff done. One recommendation I have always found valuable towards overcoming procrastination is to plan your projects using forcing functions. A forcing function is a tool that pushes you to get a certain thing done in a certain way by a certain time.

What is a Good Forcing Function?

productivityAn example of a good forcing function might be, if you’re planning to launch a piece of new technology, to schedule an all-hands launch meeting for a specific date in the future. The looming date will give you the motivation to have all your ducks in a row by the time you have that launch meeting, and more impetus than if you set the date for just yourself. As we all know, due dates can slip if there’s not something else that coerces you to get it done by that time. In my experience, forcing functions are one of the most powerful tools you can use to move the needle forward.

I’ve just recently come across a situation where my mother overcame procrastination in an extraordinary way.  I feel compelled to share it with you, despite that it originates from very sad circumstances in my life.

Heavy Tasks

productivity As many of you know, my dad passed away in the fall of 2015. My mom has moved on to reorganizing her life to the new reality of being without her lifelong partner. You can imagine that it’s one of the most difficult situations any of us will probably ever face, because some very uncomfortable to-dos come along with it. Some of these heavy tasks might be things like having to go through all of the deceased’s files that aren’t needed anymore. Another tough project might be having to sort through your late spouse’s clothes and throw away or donate these very personal items. Even more difficult is performing this work when one is grieving and has not yet come to terms with the reality of one’s having to live alone.

So I observed how my mother dealt with this situation, and I was quite blown away by her approach. I don’t know if she did this intentionally, but she used the forcing function technique to navigate those very difficult and challenging times for her.

Procrastination Was Not an Option

With every difficult job that needed to get done, my mother set a date to have someone come by and help her. An old family friend helped her go through all of the pieces of paper and files, some up to 50 years old, and they made decisions on what needed to be kept and what could be destroyed. They spent the better part of a day and a half to get through all that, but my mother didn’t have to do it alone, and she knew she had to keep the date with her friend to get the job done. Procrastination was not an option anymore.

productivity My mother used the same technique when it came to dealing with my father’s clothes. She had another very close pal come by and help her for 3 to 4 hours to sort the clothing into a pile for charity and a pile for disposal. According to my mother, it was one of the most difficult things she had to do, but because she wasn’t alone, the jobs were started and actually got done.

My mother’s actions were some of the most powerful examples that I have ever come across of how to help yourself by using forcing functions through some really difficult times. Her determination to get through those onerous chores reminded me of a country song I recently heard from Rodney Atkins called “If You’re Going Through Hell.” At the risk of outing myself as a closet country music fan, I have to share the lyrics with you since I found them so profound:

If you’re goin’ through hell, keep on going. Don’t slow down, if you’re scared don’t show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there.

My mother worked her way through hell, and she did it methodically and with great resolve. I learned something from the way she worked through those difficult tasks she faced after my father passed away, and it made me incredibly proud of her.

So I wrote this blog post for two reasons: I wanted you to hear this very profound story to show you how forcing functions can be used effectively as a tool in the most challenging of times. I also want the world to know how proud I am of my mother and how very much I love her.

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