I was glad last week’s post resonated with many of you. It’s clear from the comments that if you can turn one task into a complicated project, you’re in good company.
It led us up to the question:
Why do we tend to make jobs harder on ourselves?
Why would we make something more complicated?
For me, it’s because I always see the full picture. I can’t look at just one task without seeing everything related to it.
It feels like my mind is covered with post-it notes all the time. I might look at one, and all the rest will be right there. (Yes, thinking about all the things to do can be overwhelming to the point of feeling paralyzed or making me want to hide.)
It’s not necessarily a disadvantage. It’s really an amazing ability to think of all of life’s various details in an orchestrated way. How else could women manage with small children and balance all the demands that we carry?
Some of you have husbands who are more productive by focusing on one task and just starting, and I do too.
Sometimes when Doug and I talk together, I’ll say something along the lines of “I’m really feeling overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done.”
Doug will innocently ask, “What needs to be done?” And even though I want to give him an “Are you kidding me???” response, I know that he doesn’t see all the things that I see. He only sees the one post-it note that’s right in front of him.
The book For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women said 79% of women experience multiple thoughts and emotions at the same time. This means I don’t just think about the one thing I’m working on, I’m thinking about what I did earlier, what the kids are doing right now, and the five things I’m going to do next. I’m also replaying an earlier conversation in my head and trying not to let something bad that happened bring down my mood.
The book likens this to a computer with all of the programs — email, internet, Word documents, Excel, your budgeting software, and your digital photos — open and running at the same time, and it’s difficult to close the windows.
Most men on the other hand (and according to their survey, 21% of women) are more likely to process thoughts and emotions sequentially, focusing on one thing at a time.
It’s just one more way that people are made differently.
How It Can Look in Relationships
We have married friends who told us a story about when they were in college and had gone out on their first date together. The next morning, each one went down to get breakfast in the dining hall of their respective dorms. She sat down with her cereal and thought about all of the details of last night’s date: how much she liked him, did he like her? What might happen next?
But what did he think about when he sat down to eat his bowl of cereal? In his words: “I was just thinking about the cereal.”
Instead of feeling like there is a right way and a wrong way, or maybe that one way is better or more productive than another, I’ve realized how much Doug and I complement each other through our differences. He may be able to focus on one thing better than I can, but I can keep up with all of the small details that he would miss. We’re a team.
That’s not to say I can’t learn something from his way of doing things. I often ask him if he thinks I’m making something more difficult than it should be.
What else can influence our thought processes?
Do any of these thought habits apply to you to make things more complicated?
Perfectionism — When you look at something as if it’s under a microscope, instead of through a wide-angle camera lens. You might notice a little bit of dust in the corner, instead of seeing what would make the most impact to clean up a room.
Idealism — You make plans assuming everything will go the best possible way. You usually expect to do too much due to an unrealistic sense of time and energy. For example, “It only takes me 12 minutes to get to work (assuming all the traffic lights are green and I run to the building.)”
Thoroughness — You have an overwhelming desire not to let something go before you’ve seen it completed. You might have the bulk of it ready, but you’ll tweak and fiddle with it. Do you watch the entire movie (even if it’s lame) because once you’ve started it, you have to finish it? Sometimes it’s best to move on.
Control — When life is a series of regular interruptions and redirections every five minutes (hello, small kids?) , it’s hard to give up your original plans and change course. You might try to add the new work plus keep your original plan too, just so you can have some say in the matter and not feel like your day was lost. The task list keeps getting longer.
Over-planning — Planning is a good thing, but too much leads to procrastinating. That’s why I think getting organized might be a big fat waste of time.
Efficiency — You know the most logical way to do something. You know the right order, and if you do it in batches it saves time. But we often don’t get those big blocks of time, do we? Sometimes you have to sacrifice efficiency for effectiveness. They’re not the same.