I do the thing that scares me the most first

Sometimes, when I’m faced with a whole laundry list of things to do, it helps me to start by doing the thing that scares me the most first. If there’s nothing actually fearful on the list, then it can be the thing that I like to do the least.

When I was a younger man left to keep up my own place, and being a man who likes a place kept up well, I would take a day off to get caught up on everything. My days then looked much like my days the way I have things structured now, in that I always have plenty of things on the list but seldom have anything with a set deadline. Even my work with Lending Times doesn’t come with much of a deadline. Allen sends me a file to work on, and I have “about a week” to submit my article.

It’s a great set-up to have, and it’s largely based on the fact that I work on the list constantly. Even a nap when needed is work on the list, or a run. Everything that is necessary goes on the list because it all has to be done to clear space up to work on the list.

It might sound like this makes me a slave to my schedule, but if’s quite the opposite. I work pretty much all day six days a week, but there is no time when I can’t go outside and play with my kids when they ask, and if Becky calls to say she forgot her coat and could I run it down for her, I’m in the car in less than two minutes.

I have these freedoms because I am diligent toward my tasks, and the hours I’m putting in now are well worth being there for my wife and kids when they need.

Someone might say, “Well, that’s easy for you, Paul, because you’re a workaholic.” The thing is, I’m not; that’s just one more case where I’m having to do something, be something, for a period of time in order to not be that thing forever. I’m doing all the extra work right now so I won’t have to be doing it in two years. If this all goes well, two years from now–and hopefully sooner–I’ll be writing for a living and not tending bar, which will get my work schedule down to a manageable 40 or 50 hours a week.

And what does this have to do with doing the thing that scares you, or the thing you hate to do, first? It goes back to when I was that younger man left to take care of my space and the lesson I learned about how to go about that when there isn’t any set order of things required.

I hated doing the laundry. I hated it. I had had to leave the apartment to do it in a couple previous places I’d lived, and just the thought of doing laundry was literally dreadful. And in a place where you have to go outside to go somewhere to do it, it’s never going to be anything but dreadful. The one place I lived in Charlotte was a courtyard apartment complex, and the laundry room was about 170 degrees away from my apartment. My apartment was the second one in from one corner, and the laundry room was all the way across the courtyard, in a building behind the opposite corner apartment. In a situation like that, laundry is going to be a dreadful experience no matter what.

Even if I was in a situation like that today, I might be rolling along like I can get sometimes, just knocking things off the list right and left; the dishes are done, the floors are swept and mopped, the writing is done, the food is cooked, the bills are paid, I’ve rolled through it all; and then I come up against the prospect of heading outside to do the laundry, and I can’t see it being anything but dreadful.

Then I moved into a place on the East Side of Charleston that had the washer and dryer inside, and the thought of doing the laundry was still dreadful at that time, but I was having these days where I was just rolling, and I learned that I loved it when the laundry was all done because that meant that laundry was no longer on the list.

So, I started to enjoy doing the laundry. I found I could apply this principle to other unsavory chores. I hated paying bills, but I loved it when they were all paid and off the list. I hated unloading the dishwasher, but I came to love it because it meant it no longer needed to be done. I hated to sweep the floors, and…well, the principle failed me there, but that didn’t matter much because I had shoes.

And through it all I applied the principle of doing the most dreadful tasks first; getting them out of the way is such a boon to the confidence and drive. I would do this, and I’d really be rolling.

Before I close I want to make it clear that I’m not telling anyone how to live; I’m only telling you something that works for me. I can’t tell you that it would work for you, because I don’t know. I imagine that adopting this philosophy would work for some of you, but just as sure as that, there are others of you it won’t work for. Hence, I can’t just make some blanket statement about what all you need to do. I can just say that this has worked for me.

You might be the kind of person who likes to knock the little things off first, build confidence that way, which is a perfectly rational and sensible way to go about things. Nether way is wrong; it just matters what works for the individual.

Both of these management styles have something in common, and it comes back around to that tenet from the rooms of AA: “Do the next right thing.” Remember that the verb here is “do,” and not “right.” No matter how we go about it, the key is to do it, just stay busy, continue to ask “What’s next?”, and just keep rolling.


2 Replies to “I do the thing that scares me the most first”

  1. I appreciate your approach towards scary things and things you want to do least. That makes you courageous and free from anxiety. i loved this post.

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