Sitting down to dinner with my daughter, we started talking about school and work. She mentioned her tendency to ”half-ass” her work.
On my way to a reflexive launch of a finger-wagging lecture, I stopped and wondered, “What does that even mean?”
As our discussion unfolded, I realized that much of what I do is a sort of coordinated half-assing. Or at least I have a way to give myself the license to do so.
Half-assing generally means doing something poorly or with lack of effort. But why would anyone do that?
Rather than think of this as some form of default, maybe we’d get further thinking of it as a means of avoidance. Maybe half-assing has more to do with avoiding the difficult emotional aspects of work. Feelings such as:
– Will I do well enough?
– Can I do well enough?
– If I try, will I reveal that I cannot do it?
The feelings that fuel these questions often result in problematic solutions: If you can try a little and do poorly, then at least you didn’t try hard and do poorly. Doing the latter would reveal your potential, and looking at what that might mean can seem quite frightening.
So you do a little, or just enough, and move on. Whatever it is, you did less than you could have if you’d stuck with the pain.
Part of the trouble is that it’s not about staying with pain or not. Sometimes the fears are overwhelming. But, sometimes you might sense an enjoyable challenge.
The important matter is whether you have a choice in the moment to decide, “Is this a frustration I want to sit with or one that would be better to take a break from?”
A more useful solution involves the tool of Touching the Keys. (Download a free PDF on the technique here.) Essentially, the tool is about dedicating a visit to some piece of work every day, doing as little or as much as you feel makes sense in the moments of that visit.
So how does that help?
By engaging this tool early, well in advance of a due date, you first minimize the anxiety of the deadline. Maybe you put the work in front of you, scratch your head, add a sentence or two, and put it away for tomorrow.
When tomorrow arrives, you have already touched the work once. You’ve exposed yourself to the emotions of the work. That means that your mind had the opportunity to keep working on it in the background of your day. You’ve woken up the next day with not only a residual worked-through memory of the puzzle but you’re also refreshed.
With repeated touches, those frustrations and fears often gradually mold into a challenge more than an impossible maze.
Since you can walk away with the idea of repeating a touch the next day, you have a much stronger license to ”half-ass” it, in other words, step away from something that might be daunting if you decide to.
The work shifts away from avoidance. It becomes more about caring and managing your relationship between your work and your self.