Are You a Tortoise or a Hare? About Work

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Are you a tortoise or a hare?

I love paradoxes, parables, koans, aphorisms, fables, and teaching stories of all kinds. Lately I’ve been thinking of the Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.

In the familiar fable by Aesop, the tortoise and the hare run a race. The hare is so confident that he’ll win that he takes a nap, and while he’s asleep, the tortoise’s regular, plodding pace allows him, the slower competitor, to cross the finish line first.

I’m not using “tortoise” and “hare” exactly as Aesop did, but it’s a handy frame of reference. Here is my question: Are you a tortoise or a hare when you approach a large task?

A Tortoise prefers to work more days, for fewer hours—three hours a day for seven days. Slow and steady.

A Hare prefers to work fewer days, for more hours-—seven hours a day for three days. Bursts of effort.

There’s no right or wrong way, but just whatever system works better for you.

I myself am a Tortoise. I like working every day, but I don’t like feeling that I have to get a huge amount done in any one session. I like having distant deadlines that I approach slowly and steadily. I love writing books, but I could never work for a daily paper; the crush of constant deadlines would make me crazy. On the other hand, I never miss a deadline.

A friend is a Hare.  She allows herself to take a day off here and there, but she makes up that work. She doesn’t mind the pressure of needing to accomplish a lot over a short period. She feels energized by deadlines.

One problem with being a Hare is that to be effective, you really do need to catch up. You can’t sleep through the entire race. Often, I see quasi-hares fall into the trap of the “tomorrow problem” (which is related to the one-coin problem).  “I didn’t work today, but I’ll work seven hours tomorrow”—but when tomorrow becomes today, they don’t feel like working the seven hours.  If that’s a challenge you face, you might try a tortoise approach. Don’t try to do too much on any one day, but push yourself to be very, very consistent.

How about you? Are you a tortoise or a hare?

From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.

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