Doing the Unpleasant Things

Gerwig 2016-07-15

Do you have any tasks that you dread? You know, the kind you put off as long as possible? They’re tasks that need to be done, but you hate doing ‘em. And you find every excuse in the book to avoid them, hoping that they’ll go away. Maybe a genie will appear and magically do them for you. Or maybe your husband, wife, kids, or neighbors will do them. Or perhaps they simply won’t be there when you wake up in the morning. Perhaps you have been more fortunate than I have, but this is not my life. Putting off dreaded chores simply delays the inevitable. Avoiding reality doesn’t reduce the pain or dislike of completing these tasks. And have you noticed that sometimes in the process of procrastinating, the task grows. Let me give an example.

I have a trash can in the garage. It’s useful. I throw away all kinds of refuse in the can. It’s very helpful. It keeps litter and food and all types of “stuff” off the floor of my garage. But I don’t like to empty the can when it gets full. It’s a chore, a task, that I find unpleasant. So I put it off. I say to myself, “I’ll take it out later.” This really means, “I’ll take it out only when it’s overflowing and no longer able to hold trash.” But this sometimes takes a while. Instead of emptying the trash weekly or when it initially gets full, I delay. I procrastinate. I don’t want to do the unpleasant thing. The trash grows taller. I cram it down. I stick my foot and pack it in. I keep adding things to it day by day. It’s past the “normal” capacity. It begins to look like an ice-cream cone. The trash should have been emptied when the ice-cream was level with the cone, but I kept on piling. Higher and higher. Soon, the trash is piled up like a double-scoop of chocolate ice-cream in a sugar cone.

Finally, after days or weeks, it can go no longer. I simply MUST take out the trash. But at this point, I can’t simply carry the can outside. Why? Because the trash is falling off the top of the piled-up can like melting ice-cream running down the outside of the cone. I have to get an extra-large trash bag and put the excess trash in. Did I mention that the trash can smells because it’s had food and other organic matter sitting for weeks? So not only do I have to take extra time putting the excess trash into a separate trash bag, I have to wash and disinfect the can. By avoiding the unpleasant things, I’ve made it worse. My task takes longer to complete and I may have caused irreversible damage (e.g. maybe I can’t get the odor out of the can).

The picture above shows one of my grills, the Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC), and a small BBQ table. The PBC uses charcoal, not propane. After using the PBC, I must reach down into the bottom of the drum, extract the charcoal basket and dispose of the ashes before I can grill again. I can empty the ashes the day I grill or a month after I grill. But I must empty the ashes before its next use. There’s no other option. It’s completely up to me when I complete the task. The PBC doesn’t have feelings or emotions. It doesn’t care. It’s a piece of metal. But the PBC cannot cook two consecutive times without having the ashes emptied. Now to be honest, it’s not a big deal. And the PBC has a clever attachement to facilitate emptying the ashes. I would not really call it unpleasant. But it’s not my favorite task either. I’d rather smoke a turkey than empty the ashes. I’d rather grill pork tenderloin than empty the ashes. I’d rather baste a skewer of vegetables than empty the ashes. There are many actions I’d rather take than emptying the ashes, but it’s necessary. And great chefs, like great leaders, are willing to do the unpleasant thing.

My “trick” is doing the unpleasant thing quickly and getting it out of the way. I rest more easily once the unpleasant task is done. When I grill, I empty the ashes right away and cover the grill so I’m ready to grill the next time. I’d rather do the unpleasant task today than do it tomorrow or next week.

What are your unpleasant things? Paying the bills? Cutting the grass? Washing the car? Doing your taxes? Going grocery shopping? Doing the laundry? Filling out the spreadsheet? Weeding the garden? Having that difficult conversation? Cleaning the toilets? Writing the report? Studying for the exam? Whatever your unpleasant “thing” is, whatever your unpleasant task or chore is, delaying doesn’t make it go away. Procrastinating doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it more quickly.

What are your unpleasant things? Are you doing them quickly or are you procrastinating? Are they disappearing the longer you wait or growing bigger? Great leaders are great at doing the unpleasant things. They do them quickly and get them out of the way. They aren’t pleasant. They aren’t enjoyable. But they must be done. Please note that you’ll feel better and be more efficient the more quickly you get them done because the task won’t “grow.” Successful people are willing to do the unpleasant things and they do them quickly. Are you?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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