Stop Putting Things Off, Start Getting Things Done

Have you ever put something off for days, months or maybe years before buckling down and getting it done? Or maybe you never finished it even though you can and probably should?

Sometimes circumstances force you to get them done. For example, at the last house we lived in I kept intending to remodel the bathroom, remodel the kitchen and re-landscape a section of our front yard. After two years of living there I finally did all of these things in the last few weeks before selling the house.

I often put off returning unwanted items to a store until just before the deadline. Even now I have a piece of luggage that needs to go back. Throw it in a box, tape it up and put on a label. That’s all it would take. But I keep walking by it and thinking, “I’ll do it later”. Yes, I’ll finally get it returned but it will feel like a chore because it’s something I have to get done.

This type of reactionary thinking sometimes follows me into the workplace too. I’ll have a map that needs to be finished or a piece of code that needs to be refactored. But I’ll wait until the deadline to finish it or until software breaks before fixing it.

Why do we leave some things undone even if they could be completed relatively easily? We might put off difficult tasks because we don’t want to get started on a chore. But I have a theory that we put off difficult tasks because we don’t want to finish them. When you have something you know you could accomplish but you don’t, it does two things for you.

First, it gives you a sense of control over your life and environment. You can do these things with relative certainty of success but you choose not to. If it were a task or project that didn’t have a clear path to completion it would become a major project and would, in a sense, control you. We like to keep some unfinished but doable projects around so we can have a hand in our own future.

Second, we keep certain projects around a buffer to the bigger and more uncertain things in our lives. Maybe these are those big projects that threaten to control us. Maybe they’re buffers against a phone call you have to make or something you need to learn. Whatever the thing you’re avoiding, you distance yourself from it by first avoiding something simpler and giving that thing priority.

So how do you break free, sweat the small stuff and get the big projects off your plate as well? It’s actually pretty simple. But it’s hard to actually do. I’ve found that you need to create a new habit of accomplishing at least one small thing on your to do list every day. You also have to commit to working daily on any big projects you may have looming.

Along with creating work habits, you have to carve out specific times to do them as well. It really comes down to self-discipline. You’ll soon discover that you get a much more satisfying sense of control over your life when you purposefully tackle your tasks. And those bigger projects will soon seem much smaller and more doable as you chip away at them day after day.

I Never Knew That was There

I’m always trying to find somewhere interesting to go on my daily morning walks. Going on the same route every day gets boring after a while. Yesterday I walked to two nearby business plazas and walked along the store fronts looking at what businesses were there.

Now, I had been to these plazas before to go to a restaurant, a bookstore and a martial arts studio. I also drive by them almost every day. But I was surprised at how little I knew about the other businesses that were in there.

By my count I walked by 32 businesses. I had only been to three of them and before yesterday I couldn’t tell you the names of more than one or two of the other ones. I’ve written before about being observant and really noticing things in the world around you. The problem is, there’s so much to notice and a lot of it isn’t relevant to your immediate life. For example, I didn’t need to know there was a women’s hair salon or a travel agency and SCUBA dive shop.

Your brain is very good about blocking out unnecessary distractions and only allowing you to see what you need to see to get you through your present situation, whatever that might be. Mindful observation is a way to hack your brain’s normal functioning so you can be aware of more around you.

I was practicing mindful observation as I walked up and down the business plaza’s parking lot looking at store fronts and making all of the early arriving employees nervous.

OK, who cares? So I made a point of paying attention to a bunch of stores in a couple of strip malls. Is this supposed to mean something? Well, sure. It means that I’ve purposefully put diverse input into my mind. That input is combined with other knowledge and ideas I already have in my head and has the potential to become new creative ideas or solutions.

Of course, I don’t yet know how my mind will combine the ideas of a prosthetics shop, a yoga studio and a cat lounge but at least the comedic implications are obvious.

Going the Extra Mile

It seems like it’s been a nonstop week with work, family in town, shuttling kids to events as well as all the regularly scheduled programming of life. One thing I’ve done a lot more of this week is to hike. Hiking is something I’ve always considered fun but unnecessary. I usually only go a few times a year locally. Sometimes I make an extra effort to get out on a trail when I’m visiting a different place.

This week I’ve hiked twice and have loved both times. I was out with family which made it even more enjoyable. I had at least one of my sons on each hike and each one said it was a lot of fun and we should do it more often. That’s enough to motivate me to get out with them again. And in the place we live, there is never the excuse of not having enough hiking destinations. We could probably choose a different trail within 30 minutes from our house each day for a year without repeating.

I felt really good after the hikes too. I go for walks every day and that’s wonderful. But there’s something different about a dirt trail. Sidewalks are great but I love uneven terrain more. It gives you a better workout and hits different stabilizing muscles. Everything feels good after a few hours of trail walking. I think it’s even easier to go further on a hike than walking on the street. That’s because there’s scenery when you hike so you don’t get bored. On the street you just see people’s front lawns and those aren’t usually awe inspiring. I can’t stand waking on a treadmill because it feels like you’re exercising. Walking and hiking give you a sense of accomplishment beyond just step counts or time put in.

When I hike I always feel inspired. There are always new photographs to take, interesting people to meet and beautiful places to see. Living in the west is a special thing. We have some absolutely amazing terrain and outdoor spaces.  I don’t want to waste the time that I’m living here.

I’m determined to make hiking a regular part of my weekly exercise regimen. Unfortunately, this means I have to push myself to literally go the extra mile of getting to a trailhead. I’m up for the challenge though.

Hey Kids, We’re Going to a Museum!

We’ve been doing a lot of fun activities with my sister’s family in town this week. Our latest adventure was to a local dinosaur museum. It’s small but has some interesting displays. It also is a great place to get out of the afternoon heat and spend an hour or two trying to convince your kids that this kind of experience is actually enjoyable.


One of the exhibits was an earthquake simulator. It was one of those platforms that moves around while you stand on it and stare at pictures of earthquake destruction on the wall. I didn’t read any of the signs associated with the simulator so I still have no idea why there was one at a dinosaur museum.

One of the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) exhibits was a giant animated model of a T-Rex ripping the head of another dinosaur off its body. I’m of the opinion that the neck wouldn’t tear like that. That guy’s teeth would have severed it where it bit. But what do I know? I’m no paleontartist.

No more violent video games. We’re going to a museum instead.