I was thirteen years old and just starting high school when a friend asked me if I wanted to go to work washing dishes at a big Italian banquet center. His mother had taken a job there and the owner mentioned they need dishwashers. I jumped at the chance to make money, and I was paid $3.35 per hour. The family that owned the business also fed me prime rib, lasagna, and chocolate mousse.
Sometimes my friend’s mom would pick me up, but most of the time, I walked a little over two miles there and retraced my steps on the way home, often late at night. Every so often, the notorious police officer named TK Wright would find me out after curfew and harass me as I was walking home, soaked to the bone from washing dishes. To get me off the street after midnight, he would tell me I had better beat him to my apartment, causing me to run all the way home. After a few late-night sprints, I realized he was never sitting in front of my apartment, and I stopped running.
When I could, I would skip school and work. Mr. Mullet, one of my teachers, would ride his Honda Goldwing to the banquet center and explain to the owner I wasn’t allowed to miss school. On the way back to school, I would argue that the school didn’t pay me or feed me. He’d take me back to school, nonetheless, and I’d have to walk back to work later.
A lot of young dishwashers worked at the banquet center over the years. They fell into one of two categories. The first group of dishwashers hated to work the front of the dishwasher because they had to scrape the uneaten food off the plate and run it through the garbage disposal. That was bad, but this group of dishwashers hated getting wet, something you could not avoid while spraying off hundreds of plates.
The second group of dishwashers didn’t like removing the dishes from the machine because the plates were hot after being sterilized. Because the banquet center had multiple events you had to move the plates back to the kitchen to be re-plated so the servers could get the meals on the tables close to the time.
At the beginning of each shift, there was a negotiation as to who would do each role. I wasn’t afraid of getting wet or the gross foodstuff, nor was I bothered by the hot plates, that were not as hot on the edges once you learned to pick them up with the palm of your hands.
What I noticed at the time was that the dishwashers that refused to do the jobs they didn’t like lacked the willingness to do something that made them slightly uncomfortable. I thought they were soft because they couldn’t tolerate being uncomfortable for four or five hours without complaining. None of the friends I got hired on ever complained about being wet or moving hot dishes.
After a couple of years of washing dishes, I left to find a job where I could make more money. I was fifteen when I made my first cold call for a non-profit that set up community bike-a-thons for a popular charity. I made calls like I washed dishes. When I quit, I was the only person who had ever booked two events. I had no gift for cold calling. My gift was doing what was necessary without complaint.
Willing Yourself to Do Your Work
One reason smart, competent people fail to produce the results they are capable of is that they can’t muster up the will to do work they don’t like. Instead of doing the work that would produce the results they want or need, like the dishwashers, they do what they find agreeable, even if it doesn’t contribute to the results they need. Because the work they need to do goes undone, they go without results.
I have a strong allergy to all administrative tasks. Anything that shows up as a form, especially one from some nameless, faceless bureaucrat, causes me to experience intense pain, profuse sweating, difficulty in breathing, loss of consciousness, and violent convulsions. Spending any part of the 4,108 weeks the average person lives filling out forms is revolting. Yet, I have themed the last day of the work week “Financial Friday,” a day where I take care of work I detest.
No matter the task, if it is something you must do, you are far better off doing it than avoiding it. The longer you take to do the work that produces the results you need, the longer you will go without them.
The Remedy for Procrastination
The work you avoid isn’t nearly as bad as you might make it out to be. But reminding yourself that you don’t want to do it only makes it worse. The best strategy to overcome procrastination is to do what you avoid and get it over with. We tend to lie to ourselves that we will do what needs to be done tomorrow, a promise we break when tomorrow finds us with no greater interest in doing what will eventually need to be done.
The work you find awful is best approached with a “worst first” approach, things like dealing with a difficult client issue or some other unpleasant work that belongs to you. While you might prefer to do the work you enjoy before tackling this task, the difficult conversation holds onto a part of your attention, reminding you will soon have to deal with your client. No matter when you make the call, it will go better than you thought possible or will be an unmitigated disaster. Either way, it’s done.
You are always better off doing the work you need to do, even if it requires you to do something you’d prefer to avoid. There is never a reason to push the results you need into the future when doing the work now moves the results forward.