Let’s assume that for 100 consecutive days, I present a robot with three different performance boosting batteries. These batteries all provide the same amount of energy, but have varying levels of consistency. Without a doubt, the robot would pick the one with the highest consistency rate every single one of those 100 days.
Now what if we have the same situation, but replaced batteries with drinks, and robots, with humans?
Let’s suppose someone was standing behind the counter of a lemonade stand, and offered you a selection between three drinks: water, lemon water, and lemonade.
What drink are you picking?
The reason why I bring up this strange metaphor of picking a drink is because I think it’s a perfect analogy to explain our work ethic.
Let’s go through each option one by one.
Water is…well, water. We all know what it is, and it’s immediately very clear that it’s the healthiest out of the three presented options above. Though it may not seem as appealing or tasteful as the other drinks, it’s what we really should buy. No matter what arguments or logic we use to convince ourselves to get a different drink, deep down we know that water is always going to be the best drink to get.
Water is the perceived reality of how we should work and use our time. In theory, we should be maximizing the hours in our day to work on the things that we need to do. And if we finish what needs to be finished for today, then we can potentially look ahead towards what’s coming up tomorrow or in a few days. This isn’t to say that we aren’t allowed to take breaks in between working, but the breaks we take are well-deserved ones and are taken in a timely fashion. And after all of this, we are rewarded with an improved work ethic, a more manageable schedule, and a feeling of satisfaction. Sort of like the drink, this work ethic is easily the best for us and offers so many benefits.
Of course, there’s a catch involved. The thing with water is that at times, it can get bland and boring. We can get too used to the flavor of water, and just can’t stand it sometimes. We can get burnout from the grind of work, and struggle to find the motivation to get started.
On the flip side, however, sometimes we love the process doing work, or at least, have grown accustomed to it. On top of that, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with finishing work. The harder and more time consuming that the work was, the more satisfying it becomes when you finally finish it. And people live for that. If there’s even a small ounce of excitement to be gained by doing work, it’s the knowledge that you will be finishing it and the inexplicable joy that is felt at the end of the task.
For those of you unfamiliar with lemon-water, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a mix of a water and lemons. When you take a sip, the drink vaguely resembles lemon, but it’s still mostly water. The lemon’s just there to make you feel better about drinking water. While the drink as a whole is a bit more flavorful than water, it’s not necessarily as natural or as healthy as water is.
Now, lemon water represents our work ethic in the sense that though we spend most of our time well doing what needs to be done, the breaks we take might extend a bit too long and some of them might not be fully deserved. However, just like how the drink has some flavor with the added lemon; this flavor that this work ethic provides manifests itself as prolonged breaks or time slacking off. Though our day has been more flavorful with the addition of more time to relax, it’s not the healthiest for us because those breaks aren’t deserved and they get in the way of us accomplishing tasks.
I think it’s fair to say that this is the category that people tend to find themselves in most often. They’ll find that their good study habits end up clashing with their bad break habits, and it’s a toss up as to which side “wins”. It creates this weird sort of in between that people may or may not realize they are in. Some might get the feeling that they “could be working harder”, and choosing to not do anything about it, or that they know they shouldn’t be doing something, but do it anyway.
It can get frustrating at times, too. You might know that you are doing something inefficiently, as well as the exact cause. But it can be hard to actually find the incentive to actually go through and stop yourself from going out of control, especially if there’s no one around to stop you.
It’s sweet, it’s flavorful, and we all know that it’s much more unhealthy than the other two drinks. But we drink it anyway in spite of its downsides because it tastes good, and sometimes, we want to indulge ourselves with something we enjoy.
Lemonade is symbolic of the side of us that leans towards instant gratification. It’s the side of us that decides to spend precious hours of our day scrolling through Instagram posts and, let’s be honest here, pointless Snapchat stories for hours on end. It pushes aside the fact that we have more important things to do for a while so we can instead do the things that are easier and require less energy from us.
Instant gratification makes our day more bearable and enjoyable, but at the cost of potentially leaving us in a situation where suddenly, there isn’t enough time to do all the things we have to do. Social media, video games, and TV are ultimately just distractions that keep us from doing what desperately needs to be done.
In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to realize when we are procrastinating. But in the heat of the moment, it’s fairly easy for the rational part of us desperately trying to get us back on track to get pushed back to the back of our mind and forgotten for awhile.
This Is Great And All, But Now What?
Well, now with this knowledge in mind, so the question becomes: what can we do with it?
The entire point of identifying these types of work ethics is to hopefully bring awareness towards yourself about how you conduct yourself when you study or work.
I believe that it’s natural to have those days where we aren’t very motivated to do work. As I’ve mentioned above, I think it’s the state that we just generally revert to, and it makes sense. Unless we’re feeling particularly motivated or unmotivated to do work, we naturally tend to lean towards the middle of that spectrum.
This all being said, I believe that all three of these types of work ethics reside in everyone. One day, I could ignore all my distractions and grind through a bunch of schoolwork with ease. The very next day, I could be scrolling through social media for hours without a worry in the world.
It doesn’t just have to be day to day switches, either. Hourly reversals in work ethic are fairly common as well, given the circumstances. For example: cramming the night before a test. Sometimes we can put off studying for a test for so long, content with watching Netflix and binging ice cream all we like, but when it comes down to the night before, suddenly we’re laser focused. Situations like that, going from lemonade to water, from completely distracted to completely focused, exemplify those common switches in behavior.
In fact, this whole situation with the three types of work ethics even applies to the most disciplined and hardworking people that you know. Of course, those types of people are usually known to be diligent and studious, but I assure you that even they have taken extended periods of break time and have regretted it immediately after.
The overarching point is still the same: Off days happen to everyone.
Obviously, maintaining a highly productive work ethic is very difficult; if it were easy to always be efficient, then everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t be special anymore. I’d even argue that it’s impossible for someone to always be hyper efficient and hyper productive all the time. Of course, it’d be great if we could, but that’s just simply not how it works. We aren’t robots, and we need our off days and breaks.
So when it comes down to building good work habits, I think the most effective way to do so is to set goals. This is also how I try to develop discipline in myself. So, everyday, I set a goal. It can be anything I want: no video games for an hour, two hours of uninterrupted work, or maybe going outside and getting some exercise. Everyone’s goals are going to different, but with some trial and error, everyone can find what works for them and what doesn’t. And if I’m not successful in achieving the goals that I’ve set for myself, it doesn’t directly translate to me being a failure. All it means is that the expectations are too high, for now, which is totally okay. The next day, I lower my expectations a bit, and see if I am capable of completing that goal. I try my best to repeat that process until I find that sweet spot; that sweet spot being the point where I am able to gauge my capabilities and factor in my emotional wellbeing to set reasonable goals that I believe are difficult enough to be a challenge.
And at night, before I go to sleep, I take thirty seconds to reflect on my day and what I had done for that today. I try to stay honest with myself in regards to how much work I’ve done compared to how long my breaks were.
Sometimes, the reflection doesn’t go well. But at least I recognize where I went wrong and strive to improve myself the next day. But on those days where it does go well, it feels really good. Those are the days that I personally live for; ones where I am able to overcome my struggles and reap the benefits of my hard work.
However, like most things, this process is never just easy, and it never will be, no matter how much we’d like it to be. In the end, we just have to recognize the fact that hard work and time has to be put in in order to get results; on that same note, take breaks when you need to, and don’t be afraid to slack off sometimes.
Above all, as long as we stay conscious of our actions and hold ourselves responsible for them, that’s a step in the right direction for becoming more efficient and productive when we work.