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Are You Addicted To Accomplishment?

Many of my clients are addicted to accomplishment. Getting things done is what got them where they are today in their careers. They are been known at work as the person who delivers results. The sense of pride after we complete things can feel great and become something we need more and more of to feel satisfied.

Yet adding too many to-dos to your list can create a lot of stress. Even as you’re putting them on there, you may realize you will not be able to complete all of those tasks and meet your own expectations. When the day is done and the work is not – more stress and a sense of failure.

That’s why I appreciated this article in Fast Company, where Rachel Gillett described the results of a “new habit challenge.” Every day for one week, she logged a list of her accomplishments and why she felt good about them.

Similar to the practice of positive psychology, this habit encourages us to focus on what we do accomplish versus what we don’t. Focus on the positives and you will get more positives.

The practice made a lot of sense to me, so I tried it, challenging myself to approach my weekend as one for accomplishment. Here are the results, and the lessons I learned.

Saturday was more about down time and relaxation. I felt slow and distracted. I just could not get in the mood to work. I knew if I’d pushed it, it would have been futile. So I listened to my lazy side, chilled, watched a movie, connected with family, and that was all.

Lesson 1: Listen to thyself.

Sunday was going to be my true test of accomplishment. After two cups of tea, I was ready. It was too cold and cloudy to do yard work, so it felt better to tackle my indoor to-do list. First I cleaned out my email from the week, which meant completing a proposal, doing some billing, following up on six client communications, and researching which assessment would be best for a particular client.

Whew, that felt great, and it was only 11:30 a.m. After lunch, I did some end of year planning and gave thought to January’s plan. Soon I was plowing through and making flight arrangements for a January trip and replying to a partner about a joint project for January. It felt great to get ahead on both tasks.

Now it was 1:20 p.m. Hey, this was really feeling good. I realized that thinking about accomplishment helped me tackle some challenging tasks I had been avoiding previously. That made completing them feel even better. One communication I had to write was not that hard, but I had made it tough just by worrying about it. Its actual level of difficulty was not worth the energy I was putting into worrying about it. When I got into a “Just Do It” groove, the task got done.

Lesson 2: When you’re dreading a task, don’t let your worries get the best of you. Just jump in.

Lesson 3: Keep going when you’re on a roll.

When I listed my accomplishments in a journal I was pleasantly surprised at how long the list was. Something else I tried was to set up a competition with myself to see how many things I could complete.

Lesson 4: Create a sense of competition, but only if that motivates you.

As I sat down to document this process for you, it was dinner time and I had decided not to go back to working more that night; instead, I took a walk. I knew that putting an end to the day’s quest for accomplishment would help me enjoy my evening more.

(Beware of the temptation to brag to your spouse about your accomplishments. You will care about these things a lot more than they will.)

Lesson 5: Stop at a natural stopping point.

If I had looked at all I did NOT do during the weekend, i.e., the yard work, cleaning, shopping, errands, reading the paper, or neatening up my office, I would have felt like I did not get anything done. Instead, I relished in the great feeling of having taken care of those nagging travel plans and client communications. Best of all, that I focused on the positive instead of getting trapped in a feeling of failure.

Come to think of it, the yard work can wait for a couple of months…

Are you addicted to accomplishment? Do you think you would be surprised by just how long a list of things you did in a day? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.

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