Know When to Stop

There’s a great off-the-cuff joke by the comedian Amy Poehler that the word “Ikea” in Swedish translates to “fight” in English. If you’ve ever built furniture from Ikea—either alone or with another—you’ll know that it’s nothing short of a struggle. Today, I found myself in the depths of an Ikea battle, piecing together a few new furniture items. Writing this at 10pm my local time, you can take a guess at how that went.

Tonight’s antagonist was a set of screws, which, within a few turns of the Ikea-this-might-work-but-maybe-not hex wrench were stripped. At first I laughed, “this is just how this goes, take a break!” Next, I tried to be clever, pulling out the power tools. Finally, I found myself in a fit of rage. Right when I hit that “I’m about to break this in two” point, I stopped. I looked at where I was, took a look at the clock, and decided to put things on hold until tomorrow.

This is a simple enough thing to do, but if you’re stubborn like me you may occasionally find yourself pushing back more than necessary. Instead of just putting the task at hand aside, you fight, thinking perseverance will get you the result you’re after. Sometimes it works, but it’s when you find your blood boiling, when you start to make mistakes that you need to stop. Even if there’s a deadline. Even if you really, really, want this thing to be finished; it’s still best to stop.

How you navigate situations like this—where something needs to be done but is met with substantial resistance—really depends on how you set your expectations early on. If you don’t set any expectations that the furniture—or project—will be finished by X time, when it doesn’t happen you don’t get upset. You just accept that it will be finished eventually. You acknowledge that there’s always tomorrow, an agitation-free blank slate.

There’s always a chance to pick up where you left off. If for some reason tomorrow doesn’t come (read: aliens), you’re off the hook. Know when to stop and you’ll find things being finished with far less rage.