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23 May

One, two, three - then no more excuses!

Datum: 2022-05-23 12:00
Four black vertical chalk strokes and one diagonal, across the other four

We get some tasks done right away with­out any prob­lems or delays, while oth­ers we post­pone — over and over again. We know very well that we ought to do the task, but since it was some­how OK yes­ter­day to post­pone until today, it must be no prob­lem if we leave it for tomor­row instead. Or the day after tomorrow.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as a pod­cast episode:

Post­pone­ments leave traces

Have you noticed how some tasks become stig­ma­tized; how they become tasks we post­pone instead of com­plet­ing? We become accus­tomed to not mak­ing that phone call even if it is on the list, since we after hav­ing post­poned it a few times think tomor­row” by default when we catch a glance of the task as we skim through what we need to do.

Two tricks that always work

Two tricks to get what we post­pone done, which you as a read­er of Done! prob­a­bly is famil­iar with by now, is to divide the task into small steps and/​or sched­ule time in your cal­en­dar when we fin­ish it. 

But some­times we do not even do this, but rather keep post­pon­ing, and for each post­pone­ment the mar­gin­al dis­com­fort” of not hav­ing com­plet­ed it decreas­es (until we need to start just before the dead­line, and then have to work like crazy to com­plete it on time).

If it is seen, it will have consequences

How­ev­er, if we make it clear to our­selves how many times we have post­poned this task, it becomes increas­ing­ly evi­dent that we ulti­mate­ly need to do some­thing con­crete about it, such as using one of the tricks men­tioned above. 

Inspired by a meet­ing I had a few years ago with a lean-con­sul­tant, where he described how he works with visu­al plan­ning, I have recent­ly start­ed to label a task I have pro­cras­ti­nat­ed with the sym­bol I have cho­sen to rep­re­sent a pro­cras­ti­nat­ed task”. I too have tasks I tend to pro­cras­ti­nate, even if their num­bers are dimin­ish­ing as the years go by.

This is what I do:

  1. When I post­pone a task I was going to do today to some oth­er day, I label it with the tag Post­poned 1 time”.
  2. Should I post­pone it again, I replace the label with Post­poned 2 times”.
  3. If worst comes to worst and I post­pone it once again, it will receive the label Post­poned 3 times”.
  4. And that’s it! After three times the lim­it is reached. I have decid­ed that I can not just post­pone it once again, but if I do post­pone it a third time, I have to come up with some­thing con­crete to do about it. I can choose between:
    • Break­ing it down to a first min­i­mal step, which I can do imme­di­ate­ly, or
    • Book a time in the cal­en­dar when I do it. End of story.

This has worked real­ly well for me. Per­haps it will for you as well.

Do this

If you want to try this method as well, then do this:

  1. Decide how many times you can post­pone a task with­out it hav­ing a consequence.
  2. Fig­ure out how to grad­u­al­ly label a task as being post­poned. Do you put a dot after it (and then anoth­er)? Do you use a tag? A cat­e­go­ry? A spe­cial col­umn? You for­mu­late the task start­ing with a num­ber? An asterisk?
  3. Now define the rule that says what you have to do when you have used up all your post­pone­ments. Do you sched­ule an appoint­ment with your­self dur­ing which you work on the task, and in this way reserve time when you will not sched­ule oth­er meet­ings? Move the task to your overview of the major tasks from which you then define the first, small­est step as a to-do task?
  4. Try the method out for a while and adjust the new habit if you find it nec­es­sary. If you want to, email me and tell me how you progress, and you will receive an excit­ed reply and encour­age­ment back.

Few­er undone tasks with rea­son­able pressure

Because, if you in this way make it clear to your­self when you are post­pon­ing, you will avoid undone tasks, or sour­doughs”, since you will be noti­fied that you have been putting a task off on pre­vi­ous occa­sion and that you are about to do it again. You put rea­son­able pres­sure on your­self which is need­ed for you to break the unfa­vor­able habit of pro­cras­ti­na­tion and estab­lish a new one — one that will help you.

How do you do it?

How do you make sure you do not pro­cras­ti­nate the same task until next week over and over again? Write to me and share your trick.

(I know, tasks we pro­cras­ti­nate might be hard to get start­ed with. Here is a trick to get these tasks done any­way.)

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If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

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