3 Productivity Lessons from Fourth Grade Math

productivityWhen my oldest, Elizabeth, was in the fourth grade, she asked for help with her math homework. Jim was at work, so in comes the B-team. I’m abysmal at math, so I felt proud to be able to help with material as advanced as fourth-grade math. A couple of days later Elizabeth brought the worksheet home.

I’ve never seen so many red marks in my life. According to Elizabeth, her teacher asked her never to get math help from her mother again. Ouch.

I’m an educated woman with a master’s degree. But my math synapses just do not connect. So I don’t do math unless I absolutely have to.

Here’s what I learned from my fourth-grade math experience:

  1. We’re never very good at work we hate. Accept it and focus on where your gifts are. Numbers will never make sense to me, but I’m much more creative than most accountants I know. Don’t waste time trying to make applesauce from an orange.
  2. Constant frustration and failure are demoralizing. What’s the one thing you know you’re rotten at? Imagine doing it all day. How would you feel at the end of that day? Don’t place yourself in a position that requires you to spend large amounts of time on work you hate. A crummy day at work impacts our productivity and quality of life at work and at home.
  3. No one does everything well. Some can work miracles with Excel pivot tables, others can design beautiful things. But I know of few people who do both. Don’t beat yourself up for what you don’t do well; focus on the talents you have.[Tweet “Don’t beat yourself up for what you don’t do well; focus on the talents you have.”]

There are times when I’m forced to do math, and I open a spreadsheet every now and then. There will always be unpleasant, boring, or arduous tasks, but when we see them as opportunities to stretch and learn a new skill they can become a challenge rather than a burden. Find one small piece to master and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of learning something new.*

I never again helped either of my girls with math, but as they progressed in school I became a sought-after essay and term paper editor for them and even some of their friends. And there’s still the occasional frantic 11:55 p.m. Google Doc share with an editing request from my college-age daughter with a midnight deadline.

Now I look for things that I find simple while others see difficulty. I’m happier in my work and much more helpful to others.

What do you hate?

*Ask me about concatenation sometime.

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