What Do You Do When You Just Don’t Want To?

I have a head cold. I’ve had this for almost two weeks. My cough interrupts my sleep (and Mark’s) almost every night. I’m seeing the doctor again today, to make sure I don’t have something other than a head cold. (I didn’t last week.)

The problem is not the head cold. The problem is this: I don’t want to work. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to read. I want to sleep. I want to stop coughing. But, that’s not what I’m supposed to do today (and all the other days this week). What do I do?

I know why I don’t want to work. I’m exhausted. But, that might not be your reason for not wanting to do your work. I’ve had other times when I didn’t want to work. If I think about them, they fell into these categories:

  • Boring, non-interesting work.
  • Work I thought I should have automated/outsourced. I wanted the results, but not the practice of doing the work.
  • Work I thought I shouldn’t have to do. It was someone else’s job.
  • Work that no one should have to do.

You might have other categories.

When I see work like this, I use approaches like this:

  • Decide if I should still do it. Often, the answer is yes.
  • If so, what’s the shortest timebox I can use to start and maybe finish the work? I didn’t want to write this post this morning (because I am so tired) so I decided I would give myself a short timebox to start and maybe end it.
  • Do I know what “done” means for this work? Is there some small amount of work I can do to finish this and get it off my list?

If you don’t want to do your work because your job is boring—the entire job—maybe you need a new job. If this work is part of your job and you don’t want to do this part, maybe a short timebox is enough.

Maybe it’s time to go meta, to step back and say, “What would I have to do to make this interesting enough to finish?” For me, that’s often a script/some kind of automation to finish the work and not have to continue to deal with it.

If you know what done means for your work, maybe you can do the minimum, do some more interesting work and then return and decide if you need to do more. I am not suggesting you shortchange your work. I am suggesting that maybe enough is enough.

That’s what I did with this blog post. I decided to go meta and discuss why I am having trouble focusing on my work to do it. I’m off to see the doctor again, and hopefully, I will sleep tonight.

That is the question of the week this week: What do you do when you just don’t want to?


2 thoughts on “What Do You Do When You Just Don’t Want To?

  1. Jim Grey

    I think about why I don’t want to. I like to be busy, to work on things, so when I’m not feeling it it’s seldom random. There’s usually a root cause. It ranges anywhere from “need to care for myself in some way” to “angry about something related to the job I need to do.”

    I then have to weigh whether the task is more urgent than taking care of the root cause. If yes, I try to make myself do the task. If no, I try to attend to the root cause.

    But sometimes, I just decide to do none of that, and I give myself permission to slack. Often that means going somewhere to do some photography, a favorite hobby. A couple hours of that is often enough to give me my resolve back.

    1. johanna Post author

      I like that idea of permission for slack. We all need it.

      I took my codeine cough syrup at 4:15pm yesterday, slept for three hours and felt almost human when I woke up for dinner. Took more last night and I almost sound human today. What a relief!

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