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:
- When I postpone a task I was going to do today to some other day, I label it with the tag “Postponed 1 time”.
- Should I postpone it again, I replace the label with “Postponed 2 times”.
- If worst comes to worst and I postpone it once again, it will receive the label “Postponed 3 times”.
- 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.
If you want to try this method as well, then do this:
- Decide how many times you can postpone a task without it having a consequence.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.)