As I come to the end of a week off work, with a list of things that need doing around the house that’s little changed since the beginning of the week, it strikes me that it’s about time us procrastinators had our own system. With that in mind, I present the following (with apologies to David Allen).
The Putting Things Off System
The main principles of Putting Things Off can be summarised in four steps:
Every time you come across something you need to do, put it into a ‘bucket’ (an e-mail folder, a drawer in an old filing cabinet you never look in, or perhaps an actual bucket). Once you get all the things you need to remember out of your head, it’s easier to forget about them.
Once a bucket gets full, move it out of sight somewhere and start a new one. Don’t make the mistake of looking in the buckets – it’ll just be depressing.
When faced with a list of things that need doing, just pick a few at random and try to get rid of them using one of the following strategies:
If something looks like it would only take a couple of minutes, you can do it any time, so forget it for now. Don’t distract yourself by trying to do it straight away.
Can you think of someone else to blame for the task not getting done? If so, you’re in the clear. Don’t remind them though, otherwise they might remove the obstacle, and with it your excuse for inaction.
Deferring things is just a more positive way of saying procrastination, so this is a good plan if no other excuse presents itself.
Organise all your tasks into projects, and allocate a ‘next task’ for each. That way you can ignore all but one item in each project, leaving far fewer things to think of reasons to avoid.
Organising by context can also be a helpful source of excuses. For example, a context might be ‘things I can’t do at home’ or ‘things I can’t do if it’s raining’.
Review all your lists occasionally, to see whether you’ve ignored anything for so long that it’s gone away. One useful technique is the well-known ’43 folders’ – if you split stuff up across that many places, it’s far easier to forget about.
Finally, all this hard work will be to no avail if you still end up doing things. If all else fails, remember the words of the Grange Hill cast, and just say no.
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