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.

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