Today I had this perfect set of tasks that fit neatly into all four quadrants of an idea I’m playing with called the Want/Must Matrix.
The counterintuitive thing I’m arguing is that the tasks that create the most resistance are those we both MUST do and WANT to do.
Common productivity advice when you want to do something but have resistance: “Find a way to force yourself through public accountability, promises to others, etc..”
Softly/playfully, this can help, but when taken seriously, it’s the perfect recipe for procrastination.
When we procrastinate, we’re usually avoiding something that we must do in favor of something we want to do. Right?
This is exactly wrong.
We’re often avoiding the things we most want to do in favor of things we neither want nor must do. 🤦♂️ Why do we do this?
The most common procrastination activities are usually no more than tics disguised as Wanty or Musty or some combination. We spin artificial webs of want/must/must-want to distract ourselves from the discomfort of the friction between obligations and our true desires.
We check email ten times, organize stuff. If we play a game, we do so with a sense of duty (“just need to finish this level”). We aren’t “playing” at all. This isn’t the romantic procrastination we were promised!
Why would we do these things in lieu of what we most want?
If our obligations and true desires are perfectly in line, why wouldn’t that be advantageous? If we get to do “what we love” for “our job,” isn’t that ideal?
Ask someone who has made their “passion” into their “job” and see how smoothly it’s gone for them.
The most common explanation for this incongruity is that we’re somehow afraid of failure and so we don’t start. Sure we’re afraid of failure, but fear of failure is insignificant next to the true cause of the really bad resistance.
The big cause is adding more Must to our Wants.
The great paradox is that, if you Want to do something, adding Must to it adds resistance. The part of us that Wants (and always knows how to do the things we want, needing no help) is completely gummed up by the part of us that tries to coerce and control it.
If you think I’m talking only about work, I’m not. This applies as much to reading or playing with your kids. We have an incredible knack for making anything into an obligation, and when we do, even the thing we want most in the world becomes a massive struggle.
Our coercive/extractive cultural discourse says human behavior is “lazy” or “not lazy”. “Good” people do what they must, and “bad” people do what they want.
This doesn’t hold up. People who do the most are people who have figured out how to do what they want to do with ease.
Learning to do what we want to do is less a process of learning as it is a process of _un_learning. We already naturally know how to do what we want. My 3-year-old never needs to ask herself what she wants to do or try to motivate herself to do it.
“But your 3-year-old doesn’t have real work to do.”
Irrelevant. She begs to help with everything: dishes, cooking, picking up. She’s just not good at these things yet.
Some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done was cleaning a restaurant kitchen at 1AM or shoveling stone.
There’s nothing precious about the work it takes to write your book or app. It’s no different from stacking firewood or doing dishes. /your thing/ is just something you want to do that you’ve made so Musty that you can’t even access the part of you that wants it anymore.
All Must isn’t bad. A bit of Must can appetize Want/Play. But the Must can’t have judgment attached. “I must post a thread today” = ok. “I must post a GOOD thread today” = dead.
“This better be good” or “You’re in trouble if you miss this deadline.” Not helpful. Not once. Ever.
And the Musty voice needs to fade into background noise if you’re going to actually do/enjoy doing the thing.
The only way for that to happen reliably (Flow) is to actually stop believing that you need the Musty voice. To believe that, you’ll need evidence.
This is proving to be a pretty wide-ranging topic and I’m not going to be able to encapsulate it in one post/thread nicely the way I wanted to. But that’s okay, because there’s nothing about this that I MUST do other than post it, which is fun.
It’s fun to post every day.
Oh, oh! One more peculiar thing on the topic of procrastination:
In The Want/Must Matrix, it appears that procrastination can only happen diagonally. You can only procrastinate with stuff you actually want to do if you’re avoiding stuff you have to do but don’t want to do. 🤔
If you smell something musty, turn around.