You've got more responsibilities on your plate than you know how to wrap around your fork. Every minute counts. Oh, how I hear you. And sometimes I just want to hide it all under my bed, too. But in my experience, procrastinating is futile. I have to kick it to Timbuktu or it causes far more trouble than it's worth.

So here's what I do

I work under the "now" or "handle it once" philosophy. The general idea is that, for the bulk of everyday tasks that might come up in my life, I try to do the jobs so that I don't have to come back to them. As an example, my husband has a habit of opening the mail at the end of the day, setting it all in what I now affectionately refer to as the Pile of Help Me, and forgetting about it pretty much until he can't cram more papers into the space the pile sits in. (Drives. Me. Crazy.) Under the handle-it-once method, by contrast, I go get the mail, open it, respond, pay the bills, recycle and so on. When I'm done, I'm truly done. There's nothing to deal with later.

Now, obviously, there are going to be projects that are too complex or lengthy to do in a sitting. I'm not really talking about those here. I'm just talking about all the small stuff that can end up slowing you down, cluttering your space or creating other hassles if not addressed. Stuff like

  • Putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, not on the counter.
  • Putting leftovers in portioned, lunch-ready containers right away, not scooping them into one big one.
  • Filling out an application.
  • Creating an email template or signature.
  • Taking notes as you read rather than simply scanning.
  • Deleting old copies of files off a drive as soon as you're sure new versions are in a more appropriate location.

With some finesse, you can apply the same approach to interpersonal jobs, too. For example, if you're training someone who keeps incessantly pinging you in chat with simple, non-urgent questions, don't respond to the pings as they come in. Instead, wait and then answer everything in one swoop when you get some down time.

No, you don't have to do it right this second

The handle-it-once philosophy works as an anti-procrastination tool primarily by getting you to commit to the finish on everyday jobs, thereby eliminating the chance that the smaller work will distract you from other, more intensive jobs you should do. It doesn't mean, however, that you have to handle a small task right away, as the training example above demonstrates. If you have to put something on your calendar to make sure you can see it through, that's fine. The key is just to be realistic about the time and resources the small job is going to require. Schedule the task for the earliest time available according to that assessment, and once the appointment is on the books, keep it.

Potential advantages

From my experience, the benefits of accepting the approach include

  • Feeling happier (you actually stimulate the reward centers of the brain and give yourself a little shot of dopamine each time you accomplish a small task).
  • Learning to exercise more focus.
  • Enjoying a cleaner, more open and organized space.
  • Being less overwhelmed (you don't have to stress out as unfinished jobs keep piling up).
  • Feeling more in control (you plan out when it's good to start each job and can use each job to affirm your abilities).

You've totally got this

The world is full of distractions. But the reality is, you don't have to let those distractions direct your life. Don't buy into the myth you can't finish, or that ignoring what you don't like will make the unpleasantness go away. Because you can, and it won't. No more excuses. Follow through.

Published on: Jul 27, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.