Do It Now

In this cartoon, two people are talking. The first person says, "I have too many things to do!" The second person asks, "What are you going to do first?" The first person replies, "Reorganize my to-do list".

Do you feel like you’ve got too many to-dos? It’s frustrating if chores and little tasks start to pile up on you. All of a sudden you’re thinking of the Big List of things you need to do, rather than on enjoying what you’re doing. Is there anything to be done about this?

I’ve felt that way sometimes, and I’ve tried to come up with a better solution that keeping lists. So far, my favorite approach is something I think of as the “Do It Now” philosophy. Basically, if you see something that needs to be done, you do something about it right away.

If you walk past a basket full of dirty laundry, don’t make a mental note of it, or add it to a list. Just put it in the washer and start the load of laundry right now. If you see a toy lying out that needs to be put away, don’t put it off until later, just put the toy away now.

If you come across something that needs doing, and it’s a pretty involved project, you don’t need to complete the whole thing now. Just do a little action that gets you closer to completion. Do anything, even 5 seconds worth, but do it right now.

DON’T do multiple things at once. Do one thing, and then when it’s done, move on to the next thing. Think only about the thing you are doing right now. Don’t worry about the other things that need to be done, until you are actually doing them.

Does everything really get done with this approach? Well, yes. There are only so many hours in the day. If you keep tackling problems as you see them, you’ll get just as much done as if you used a list. Actually, you’ll get a little more done, because you don’t have to spend time maintaining your list.

If you use this approach, will you forget to do the “important things”? Not really, because as soon as you think of that super-important thing you need to do, you just do it right then. The important things simply won’t pile up.

What if you think of like 12 important things all at once and you don’t want to forget ANY of them? Ok, then you can write that stuff on a list. But remember this: each thing you write on a list is a little debt you’re taking out against your future time and attention. You still only have so many hours in the day. Having a big list of things to do isn’t going to give you more hours in the day. It’ll nag at you, but it won’t give you more time. Don’t let this list linger forever. Pay off the debt quickly. Either get the tasks done as soon as possible, or decide you’re not going to work on them after all and just cross them off your list.

I’ve been practicing this myself, and two things have started to happen.

#1, I’ve started choosing my projects more carefully.

If you always clean up your messes as you go, you’ll make fewer messes to begin with. Which projects are really, truly important to you, and which are just so-so? If you have to clean up your messes as you go, you’ll be more inclined to only work on the things that are most important to you. When you recognize that time is short, you’ll spend it more wisely.

Always be looking to pare things out of your life, so you don’t have maintenance costs. If you’re spending too much time sorting through your clothes, get rid of some. If your house is a mess, maybe decline that extra social engagement. After all, if you’ve got too many loose ends, aren’t you by definition overstretching yourself? Don’t you need to pare something back from your life?

#2, I’m better able to enjoy the tasks I’m doing as I’m doing them.

The “Do It Now” approach is a bit more work initially, because you’ll be tackling tasks that you’ve been ignoring. But that’s OK. You don’t have to get everything done today. It’s more about developing a habit of doing things now.

If you can get to the point where everything is done in the moment, you can focus on enjoying that individual moment. You’re just doing things as you see them, going with the flow. There’s no list that’s pulling your strings. I actually feel less busy when I’m working this way, even though I’m doing the same amount of work.

2 Responses to “Do It Now”

  1. Olani Lilly
    November 4, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    “If you always clean up your messes as you go, you’ll make fewer messes to begin with.” This is what my Great grandmother used to say to me as she was helping me clean my room. I have managed to apply it to my house…now to apply it to work. Donʻt know how it will work.

    • Pierre Bastien
      November 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

      Hi Olani,
      Yes I find it’s easier to do this around the house, I suppose because you have more control over your priorities. I’ve been trying to apply this at work too, and it’s a work in progress, but I’ve started seeing benefits there too. Good luck!