I’ll Do It Tomorrow

Tom left a great comment on the recent article about taking care of your things:

How can you fight off “I’ll do it tomorrow”-ness? My lack of motivation makes me lazy, even though I see the benefits of not being like this.

Procrastination is a big enemy of financial progress. It’s easy to say “I’ll do it tomorrow” about countless maintenance, frugality, and money management tasks. I do it all the time myself, and I’m one of the more proactive people I know.

How do you get around it? How can you make yourself do all of the “important but not urgent” things you need to get done in your life, when it’s so easy to put them off and just kick back?

Here are the tactics I personally use to make it happen.

I don’t overwhelm myself with a to-do list. If you sat down and made a list of all of the little “important but not urgent” things that you need to do in your life, you’d have a monstrous list.

Give it a try right now in your head for the next minute. Just go through your life and think of all of the stuff that you’d like to get done – that’s important to get done – but it’s not urgent. The books and articles you’d like to read. The home and auto maintenance you’d like to get done. The financial tasks you ought to take care of. The people you should get in touch with.

The list will be painfully huge, and it’ll probably seem overwhelming.

Instead, I make a short list each day. Instead of deciding that list is overwhelming, I break it down. I tackle two or three or four of the items on that list every day.

Which ones? If they’re all important and not urgent, it doesn’t matter – I just tackle whatever’s at the top of the list. Sometimes, though, one item or another does take precedence – it’s something that needs to be done regularly.

In that case…

I use to plan the daily list in advance. I just add an all day event for a task that needs to be done and drag it around to whatever day I want to do it. If I have a thing I’d like to do, I just scroll ahead several days and stick it in on the first day that doesn’t have much going on.

The big advantage here is that it allows me to set up recurring events, for things like regular auto or home maintenance or health tasks like setting up a dentist appointment. These automatically appear in place on the day I ought to do them, so I can easily just shuffle stuff around it.

When that daily list is finished, I can kick back without guilt. So, each day I have three or four “important but not urgent” tasks that I should get done – an amount that isn’t overwhelming. I can get through them in a half an hour or an hour or so.

Once they’re done, I’m done. Sure, I have other “important but not urgent” tasks I should get to, but that’s what future days are for. I’ve taken care of what I’ve assigned myself today (which isn’t overwhelming), so I can kick back and play with my kids without feeling I’m letting something down. I know it’s all in place.

If it’s a big task, I break it down into little pieces. Big tasks are easy to postpone, so I break them down. I don’t have a task like “clean the house” or even “clean the office.” It’ll be something simple like “go through the bookshelf in my office.” I don’t do things like “fix my relationship with person X,” I instead do something like “write person X an email” or “give person X a phone call.”

Usually, at the end of such a task that’s just one part of a bigger puzzle, I immediately record the next step that needs to be done as another task. I fire up Google Calendar and jot it down immediately, putting it in place.

I keep a notepad and pen with me so I don’t forget those “important but not urgent” tasks when they come to me. “Important but not urgent” tasks pop into my head all the time. I just keep a notepad with me to jot them down as they come to mind. Once a day or so, I go through the things in my notepad and make sure they’re handled.

Sometimes, I’ll just do those things immediately. Other times, I’ll just toss it up on my calendar, adding another thing that needs to get done.

Always remember that procrastination is the mortal enemy of all of the “important but not urgent” things in your life, and often it’s those things that separate the people who get things done and succeed from those who fall behind.