I have never been any good at doing work for work’s sake.
If the work is interesting, I’ll dig in and think hard and get lots done. I’ll feel good and focus deeply and I might have a hard time stopping to rest. It’s satisfying to work like this – I need some of this in my life in order to feel truly happy. The best times in my career have been the weeks or months when I have had a deep, challenging project where I can sink my brain in fully.
If I have some boring, mindless task to do, like washing the dishes or sweeping the floor or taking out the trash, I’ll put my body on autopilot and let my mind go play. It’s actually pleasant to do some of this kind of work, because my mind is free to do something fun while I am getting something practical accomplished. Some household chores are pleasant while others are almost unbearable, and it’s all a matter of whether I can daydream while I’m doing the work.
But if I’m stuck with a task which is not really interesting, but which nonetheless requires the participation of my brain, the situation becomes very bad indeed. My thoughts skitter all over the place, slipping off target every time I stop for breath. I find myself “coming to” after half an hour’s daydream, cursor still blinking away on some untouched document. Every possible distraction thrusts itself at me, from all corners; I find myself simultaneously trying to think about three or four different projects or ideas, none of which have anything to do with my actual job.
Once I have sunk into this state, embarrassment and fear of failure generally keep me stuck there until the impending doom of an approaching deadline spurs me into frantic action. Then my adrenaline pumps, my mind zeroes in, and off I go at full speed, sometimes getting many days’ worth of work done in one hard push. It really isn’t any fun, though, since I am just covering for work I should have already done, and the best I can hope for at the end is “whew, nobody noticed”.
It’s all speculation now, since I don’t seem to be able to change this set of traits just by wishing I could work differently, but I do wonder to what degree this is nature and to what degree nurture. If I had gone through a more normal school environment as a kid, would I have had to learn how to deal with busy-work? Might I now be able to punch the clock and turn the crank and do the work I’m supposed to do when I’m supposed to do it? Or would I have been built the same way, and just had a worse education as a result? Being taught at home definitely played to my strengths, even with all the late-night cram sessions the day before a project deadline.