“A watched pot never boils.” I was reminded of this saying tonight as I waited impatiently for my pasta to cook so we could eat dinner. “Why is this taking so long??” I muttered.
Then I realized that the “watched pot” is like so many other tasks we have in our world of instant gratification, and that patience can hold great value for our time management. Here are three ways to be patient as you move through a lengthy to-do list.
1. Keep track of small steps of progress
We live in an age where we want to see results now. (5 minutes ago would be preferable.) This makes it difficult to devote time to longer tasks that will take a while to complete. Celebrate small successes and keep track of stepping stones of progress. That will keep you motivated.
2. Keep your eye on the goal
Do you remember why you’re working so hard? Before you get frustrated and give up, reconnect with that you want your end goal to be. I would say to remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” but I’ve already used one cliché in this blog so far and I think that’s sufficient.
3. Remind yourself of past experiences
If abstract future goals are not motivating you, tangible past examples can be helpful. Remind yourself of a time when patience paid off. For me, I always think back to when I started my PhD four years ago and thought I would surely fall off that steep mountain before ever reaching the top. Now that I’m so close, that motivates me to finish pretty much anything on my to-do list!
What is your “watched pot” that you’re frustrated with right now as you wait for it to boil? Don’t give up just because you think the end is not in sight. Keep plodding along, be patient, and don’t stop!
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When we sit down to work, we feel most productive when the task in front of us gets smaller. We thrive on the satisfaction of watching it shrink. But what happens when the task seems to get bigger as we work? This can be a huge de-motivator in our time management if we don’t make a few easy alterations to our expectations.
Changing Your Expectations
These types of expectations aren’t just reserved for working. I discovered a similar scenario when pulling into my driveway yesterday. In Arizona, you need two types of grass on your lawn during the year: summer and winter. The summer grass can withstand the triple digit temperatures, but won’t do well in the winter. When I came home yesterday, I noticed that my front yard was a disaster. All of the grass was brown and it looked like the gardeners were tearing it up. My whole community looked like a barren dust bowl.
To an outsider, it would look like we had a gardening nightmare on our hands. But a trained eye knows better. A trained eye, who has lived in a desert climate, knows that this is a sign of progress. You must let the summer grass go dormant before you over-seed for winter, even though the process might look a little ugly.
Training Your Eye
A trained eye knows what progress looks like, even if the initial stages of progress look a little…messy. Once you’ve completed a big task a few times, you’ll start to recognize what the early signs of progress look like. To an untrained observer, it may look like a messy disaster, but you’ll know differently. You’ll know that sometimes tasks need to look bigger before they can look smaller and that if done correctly, it’s all part of the process.
This of course takes patience. Sometimes we get frustrated that a task doesn’t appear to be going away and we’ll try to rush the process. Imagine if my community gardeners didn’t get the summer grass out of the way before putting the winter grass down. Initially it might seem that everyone’s lawns look neater, but we’ll be stuck with brown piles of straw when winter hits. Don’t skip steps when completing your big tasks in an effort to make them look “done” faster.
Know that progress doesn’t always look like we think it should and sometimes tasks must seem bigger before they can get smaller and eventually be completed.
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