Before I talk about Omnifocus (which I promised to be the second in my series of blog posts on productivity), I am inspired to insert a discussion of the universal challenge of procrastination! I have yet to meet a person who does not succumb to this – some more than others, but always with a sense of frustration and resignation! So here are my thoughts, and my experience in dealing with this!
First, I think that not all procrastination is bad .. “good” procrastination might be called something else, but it is important to me to realize that some things turn out better if I wait a while to get them done. I am more productive and creative when I do not force something, but wait until I feel inspired and energized for a particular task. This series of posts, for example, has been on my to-do list for several weeks, and I kept putting it off – until now, I am particularly motivated to get these posts written because of being involved with a group of students who are inspiring and motivated!
But inspiration is a slippery thing .. and lack of inspiration can become a #1 excuse for me to put something off too long! So I have learned to “inspire inspiration” when I need to! I see something coming due in the next few days, and I really hate to be pressured to complete the task, so I force myself to just get it started … write something to get the editorial started, or organization the materials I need to work with, or look up some information I know I will need to get the task done. Anything to get started will usually do the trick .. before I know it, I see my way clear to really dig in and get the task done, and lo and behold before I know it I can’t rest until it is done!
There are other things – usually the mundane things – that I refuse to procrastinate about because doing so just adds to a feeling of being overwhelmed! But resolving to NOT do something is futile … what I need is a resolve of what to do instead! For me, the principle that defines what to do instead for many things is the principle of handling an item only once! Here are some things this applies to:
- Email – As often as possible, I read an email message only once, and answer it right away. When I delay answering a message, then I have to read it again, and probably think about it again – a complete waste of time if it could have been handled earlier! So I only get into my email when I know I will have time to read, answer and dismiss at least a good bulk of the items in my inbox. If I see I have 89 new messages, and I know I have limited time today to deal with all of them, first I delete as many as I can without even opening them – often eliminating close to a third or half of them! Then I scan the rest to see if there are messages from folks I know I really need to get back to, and open, read and answer those. If there is still time, I handle the rest and leave just as few as possible in the inbox .. most of them still unread because to read them and not respond takes too much time! There may be a handful of 6 or 7, out of 87 messages, that I read intending to answer, then realize I need more time to reflect on my answer, or get information before I can answer — this is not procrastination, it is taking time to prepare! For some of them, a task goes on my to-do list. For many messages like this I do respond to let the person know I saw their message, and to let them know when I will respond with the information they need.
- Snail mail – this is harder for me than email because I really dislike dealing with paper mail! And my resolve on this comes and goes in waves! But when I am dealing in my preferred mode, I open all paper mail that does not immediately go in the recycle bin, and handle it immediately! If it is something I need to file (like tax forms) I scan it as soon as I open it with my phone scanning app, then file the paper away in the old-fashioned paper file drawer where I can find it when I need it. If it requires a response I cannot take care of immediately, it goes on my to-do list, and the paper goes in a paper “inbox” that I aim to keep as empty as possible!
- Dishes, clothes and general household clutter – the “handle it once” is a fabulous principle here, and for me this is a fairly easy one! If I pick up an object, it goes immediately where it belongs! What does this have to do with time management? A lot — because the time involved with dealing with objects, or looking for an item that should be in a certain drawer, is time I could be using to just chill out, or work on my quilt, or answer email, or revise the draft of that manuscript, or write a blog post!
Of course there are times when things don’t get done as efficiently as I would like simply because something takes longer than I anticipated, or because of circumstances. Example – my granddaughter needs to get to the doctor and I am the only one who can take her, so the morning I had intended to clear out my email Inbox gets consumed at the pediatrician’s office! Of course my granddaughter’s well being is a number one priority on my to-do list, even if this unexpected doctor’s appointment was not exactly on the list! The matter of my email list is no longer at the top of the list. This is not procrastination! But it does mean that my resolve to have a near-empty inbox is sidetracked! Nonetheless, the email inbox does not go away, and it is easy to begin to feel overwhelmed. There is only one solution … carve out time as soon as possible to catch up! This is possible for me to do with the circumstances of my life right now, but when I had small children in my household, carving out the time to catch up also involved carving out a space away from the children. I know I was a better parent when I did this, because my frustration and preoccupation with the to-do list could be set aside for quality time with the children.
Indeed, getting things done is always a very fine balancing act! And for me there is a very fine line between making good choices among competing demands and procrastination! Knowing the difference requires a finely tuned level of internal honesty!