The hardest thing to do is to make decisions. Action is easy. Take action toward something that you know is important and valuable to your life, and you’ll find it satisfying and absorbing. Most likely, you’ll also find that it’s a fairly automatic process. Almost everything we need to do in life is routine once the decisions have been made. I always say that we’ll do anything if we want to and we know how. When we’re stuck, it’s either because we don’t really know what to do next, or we’re not really committed because we haven’t really decided whether we want it. Once we have all that figured out, all that’s left is turning the crank.
Turning the crank is doing a rote task over and over again.
Turning the crank is doing something relatively mindless that needs doing.
Turning the crank is executing on something with a consistent level of quality and output.
Turning the crank is production, rather than design or strategy.
The great thing about turning the crank is that it leaves the mind free to focus on other things. Something is getting done almost without your realizing it. Sometimes it feels like the work does itself.
Everyone knows the feeling of turning the crank. We just don’t always realize that that’s what we’re doing. Driving a familiar route is turning the crank. Playing an addictive game is turning the crank. Binge-watching TV is turning the crank. Eating favored snack foods is turning the crank. Ordering the same drink over and over is turning the crank. We’re absolutely fantastic at turning cranks! We just don’t always turn the cranks that can move life forward. We prefer the cranks that keep us running in place on a treadmill, exhausted, burned out, but doing something predictable that doesn’t use extra decision power.
I turn the crank on my laundry system because I accept that I will want to wear clean clothes most days for the rest of my life.
I turn the crank on my personal hygiene system because the alternative is repugnant to me.
I turn the crank on my meal system because I’ve got it going on. I know what to do to cook stuff I like to eat, that my husband likes to eat, that we can eat every day without weight gain or health problems. (Example: he has a sensitivity to limes, of all things).
I turn the crank on our mail system because it keeps the desk clear, and because it prevents predictable crises. (Example: some of my airline reward points will expire soon if I don’t use them).
About 80% of life is maintenance. This can be unutterably boring and stultifying. It can feel too unfair for words. You mean I have to fold laundry EVERY DAY??? UGHHHHHH! The stuff that makes the maintenance list is the stuff that gets worse when it’s ignored. We do the maintenance because when we abdicate and avoid it, it winds up taking longer. It’s usually also stickier, greasier, smellier, dustier, more depressing and annoying in every way if it gets put off. Future Me, you’d better appreciate this.
The point of turning the crank is to free up mental bandwidth. Automate every possible thing. Anything that can be put on a System 1 basis, where it can be done without conscious thought, frees up focus and awareness for more interesting things. The most important of these is strategy, and after that are creative output and entertainment. It’s also possible to turn the crank in an emotional or spiritual state such as gratitude, satisfaction, awe, compassion meditation, harmony with nature, ecstatic musical appreciation, or all sorts of other mindsets. Just because there’s a toilet brush in my hand / doesn’t mean that this isn’t my jam.
We tend to miss these rarefied states because we’re usually boiling with resentment, steaming with annoyance and frustration, trudging in dejection, or maybe even fuming with rage that we have to waste our precious time doing these horrible tasks. SO UNFAIR! It’s only when we accept that spending 80% of our time on boring, unfulfilling chores is the lot of humanity that we’re able to tune in to other frequencies.
I turned the crank today. I woke up and wrote, formatted, and posted an article for this blog before I had even had breakfast. That’s one of the main cranks that I turn, and I haven’t missed a business day in over three years. Then I read and reviewed a book, which I also formatted and scheduled. Turn the crank. I went to the gym, coached my clients, and caught up on email. Turn the crank. Listened to eight podcast episodes, or another way to put that would be that I changed the sheets, washed three loads of clothes, cleaned the bathroom, ran the dishwasher, vacuumed the bedroom, sorted the mail, cleaned the birdcage, and walked the dog. Turn the crank. Did two tasks for my volunteer position. Turn the crank. Wrote out my strategic plan for the next 13 weeks. That’s the crank that turns all the other cranks.
Turning the crank feels like competence. It’s a game, if you want it to be. When I was a kid, I hated washing dishes because I “had” to do it. Now I just shrug and do it, because it’s my kitchen, my home, and my rules. I hated cleaning my room, quite frankly because I didn’t know how to do it and I had stuff I had no authority to discard. Now I just shrug and do it, or more accurately, there isn’t really anything to clean.
I turn the crank because it’s a major part of how I do what I want, almost all the time. I choose. I choose to have a certain emotional state and a certain energy level. I choose to have a certain amount of mental bandwidth, which I then apply to various interesting projects, also of my choosing. It’s not acceptable to me to live in chaos and entropy, and neither is it acceptable to me to put my attention and precious mental focus on rote tasks. I let my hands do the tasks while my mind is free. It’s because I turn the crank every day that my mind is released from duty.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.