Updated on 08.10.09

I’ll Do It Tomorrow

Trent Hamm

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 Google Calendar 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.

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  1. Kevin says:

    How about starting with a list of the important AND urgent things you need to get done? If something’s important and not urgent, I’ll let it slide until the big stuff is taken care of.

    And there is no substitute for just getting started on something and working on it exclusively for 15 minutes… and then another 15 minutes, and so forth.

    If you’re prone to procrastination, dump the distractions: turn off all the email notifications, your cell phone, and if necessary, unplug your internet connection. If in the office, forward your phone to voicemail.

  2. Ram says:

    Great resource / books that might also help:
    Eat That Frog – Brian Tracy
    Get Things Done – David Allen
    a chapter about Urgent and Important from “7 habits of highly effective people” and “first things first” by Dr.Stephen Covey

    In my experience, I keep a notebad handy and list every task that I can think of for the month. sure, some of them would end up with “X” but its okay, as long as I know that they weren’t done and a reason behind them – ‘coz ultimately they fall under non-urgent, non-important category. But having that awareness of things to do would certainly help day by day.

  3. Ram says:

    I like that ReTweet icon on your blog posts.

  4. BD says:

    Awesome advice. Time management is something I can definitely work on, and these are great tips.

  5. Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    Doing the first thing is always the hardest. If I can begin, I realize that I enjoy being productive. It’s a constant battle to begin. One that I fight everyday.

  6. Craig says:

    It’s an easy escape to use for procrastination of activities and other things. It’s an easy pass, which is why you can do so much more if you just get it done today and in the first place.

  7. Amanda says:

    Absolutely. I don’t think people realize how important this is. I know I didn’t until I changed my ways.

  8. cv says:

    Breaking things down into small, actionable steps is such a huge help – the “next action” idea from Getting Things Done. Often when I realize that I’ve been putting something off, it’s because the item on my list was too big or poorly defined. So instead of “take car in for smog check”, I adjusted it to “find smog check station”, then “call for hours/appointment for smog check”, then “take car in for smog check on Thursday afternoon”. What had been sitting on my list for a while got done a lot more quickly when it became very small, quick, simple tasks and then a task with a specific date/time assigned.

    So to the original reader who asked the question, I’d say keep a to-do list, but keep the stuff on it as small, quick and easy as possible. Take the few seconds when you add a new item to make sure that it’s not some big blob of a task that’s really unappealing, and instead figure out a concrete and simple next step that you’re much more likely to actually *do*.

  9. Rachel says:

    I used to go to bed each night thinking of all I did not get done that day. But having a chronic illness, fibromyalgia, has changed my focus to “look at all I got done. I did two loads of laundry, took my son to karate class, straightened the living room, made dinner.” Our focus is on never having a spare moment. This is ruining our health and our peace of mind. Yes, I probably did lay on the couch for two hours that day, but I still did the things a wife and mom should do. When my kids were young, my life was a whirlwind of projects, serving on church comittees, preparing large, time consuming meals, keeping my house picture perfect. It’s just not that important.

  10. Joanna says:

    Thanks for the advice, Trent & the reader email. It helps to know I’m not alone in this struggle. :-) I have fallen in LOVE with Rememberthemilk. Personally, I think it’s just fantastic, but I really like the list format, always have. I schedule all my recurring household stuff too (clean floors, toilets, do laundry, etc.) in part to ensure that it’s all done regularly & I don’t “hit a wall” and have to spend an entire Saturday cleaning up the mess. But I also do that b/c it brings me great pleasure to check it off my list & makes me recognize all the things I *have* done even if I moved one task to a different day.

  11. I use a similar system as you Trent, but thanks to my day job, I have MS Outlook and am able to sync my calendar to my blackberry. I use it to keep track of personal as well as business tasks.

    When I have something that is important, but not urgent, I schedule it for a specific day to begin at 7 AM and then put the reminder on 15 minutes. If I get distracted and have to “snooze” the task, I know it will be popping up again in 15 minutes.

    This works great for reducing procrastination as I will eventually get tired of being reminded I still need to complete the task and just get it done so I can mark it complete.

  12. Justin says:

    I’m going to go counter-grain here guys.

    Procrastination is something I just don’t understand. The task has to be done so you do it, promptly, because it hurts less to do now than it does later.

    Look at the comment, “My lack of motivation…” Isn’t this the core of the problem? Treat the illness, not symptoms.

    If you procrastinate with your finances clearly you don’t want it badly enough, and that’s okay. Being rich isn’t for everyone.

  13. steve says:

    This is an important topic.

    I have a long list of everything. Then I make a shorter list for the week or for two weeks from that.

    I don’t find it overwhelming, but rather helpful, to have a long list of everything I that I would like to get done.,

    However, I only consult it every couple of weeks. In between, I make a smaller list of things from that list and other things to accomplish. That way I stay on track long-term without getting overwhelmed. Of course my “long list” will never be done, it will just get added to. But the most important things on that list are things that I want to be doing, even if they seem overwhelming considered all at one time.

  14. bethh says:

    My nemesis is cleaning – I’ll spend more time thinking about what ought to be done than it would take to finish! Sometimes I’ll just set a timer for 20 minutes and crank out as much as I can, knowing that at the end of the 20 minutes I can quit, guilt-free. Usually after the 20 minutes are up I’m in a groove, and can do a bit more, but if not – then I’m done! It helps that I live alone in a relatively small space.

  15. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    I like this idea. I should make a list of five things to do every morning at breakfast, and try to have them all checked off by dinner. It’d be a good way to realize my daily accomplishments. Maybe I could even save them somewhere as a reminder of what I accomplish each day.

    I think if I do implement this, I’ll give myself one day a week where I don’t need to do anything. A sabbath of sorts, even though I’m not really religious.

  16. Ankit says:

    Great Advice. I also use pen and paper to jot down ideas which popup in my head.

  17. Tom B says:

    I have a calendar thingie on my phone so I’ll use that. Great tips, thanks! I have to say, however, that now I’m in the dog house with my girlfriend, Melody Mol. She posts comments here all the time, and a lot of them get put into the reader mailbag section. So, now she’s upset that on my first comment I get a whole front page article! Beginner’s luck, I guess. Thanks for the great ideas, and the bragging rights! LOL

  18. Michelle says:

    very applicable to what I need to do today! thanks, this will make my day much more productive.

    by the way, I use crawler notes so that even if I log off of google, I have post-it like notes on my computer desktop to remind me to do stuff. it’s been pretty effective so far.

  19. Tamara says:

    I use Remember the Milk too! It’s really helped me stick to a schedule since I’m a scatterbrain AND a procrastinator – eeek! I create tasks to remind me to pay the bills, vacuum, etc. and have reminder emails sent to both my home and work emails. It’s also helping me keep on track with flylady (house cleaning/organization). The flylady website sent me too many emails so I unsubscribed; now I just go to RTM and enter the chores I’m supposed to work on this week.

    Trent, just wanted to tell you I love your advice – you are so straightforward and don’t make me feel intimidated about all this financial stuff. Thanks for all your hard work! :)

  20. Ashlee says:

    Thank you for this! Its something I’ve always struggled with and I really need to improve on when I start college!

    I’d also suggest using a small notebook and keeping a journal of everything you do every day. A progress journal of sorts. It really helps you #1-Give yourself credit for the things you do but may not see as good enough. And #2 It can help you see where you’re slacking so you can shift your lists around that.

    Thanks Trent!

  21. Gilbert says:

    At a particularly stressful period in my work last year, I was buried with things to-do. Work related and personal, I’d get in a twist even trying to list them. For a few weeks it got gloomier and gloomier, feeling that I was running in place.

    Instead I took on the task of listing 3 work to-do’s and 1 personal to-do every day, and start off the day knocking them out. I didn’t even bother with a master list. I just thought them up first thing in the morning at my desk. My problem was not forgetting things, but the psychological burden of having that great pile of details not being done. A few times I’d knock out the short list in an hour or two, and take on additional ones with a completely positive outlook, since I had already achieved some “accomplishment”.

    The pressure eased off before the end of the second week.

  22. I have tried to do the Getting Things Done write everything down type of list, but it just doesn’t work for me. I think that it is a great approach, but quite frankly I am not disciplined enough to do it.

    So instead, I keep two lists. The first list is a catch all list of everything I need to get done and feel like writing down. My second list is a list that I create every day with the actions that I need to get done that day. Typically, these items come from my first list, but not always.

  23. For me, David Allen’s Getting Things Done solves the question in a much better way!

  24. Heather says:

    I find it important to look at why I procrastinate. It turns out that I procrastinate most when I am not sure how to do something. (Perhaps this is self-evident to the rest of you) If I can break it down into smaller steps, and there is surely a step that I can do, then I find a lot of the resistance to doing the task melts away. I also tell myself that something is better than nothing (at least to get started:)) and that helps take the pressure off of doing it right the first time (I’m a little bit of a perfectionist!)So I start and am often amazed at how much I actually can do. Oh, and David Allen’s book is quite good too! Thanks for the great review on that Trent.

  25. Loved the post, Trent. I’m always interested to hear how others manage their ‘to-do’ lists. Just stumbled across a great little book called Toodoodlist (ebook). It has some great ideas that I’m starting to work with. I rely on a combination of 7 Habits and Getting Things Done. The biggest help for me is keeping a running “Waiting For” list. I would constantly forget about something someone was supposed to get for me (usually information) or do – including stuff at work, personal stuff (like waiting for the bank to research something), etc. Now I keep it all on a list and can glance at it daily and know when I should follow up on something. As for the bigger ‘to-do’ lists, I keep a running list of tasks and a short list that I assign to myself every morning – just a few critical items that HAVE to get done that day. Knocking out that list each day then gives me the space (and clear mind) to move on to more enjoyable things.

  26. Strick says:

    Interesting. Procrastination may be the reason FOR my financial success. I never get around to upgrading the car, building the deck, remodeling the bathroom, traveling to Europe, and many other things I’ve probably forgotten I wanted to spend money on.

  27. I need to reread this about once a week. Linked to it in my weekly roundup. Thanks!

  28. Janet says:

    I found the website flylady.net to be full of helpful strategies.

  29. Nice post!

    Zig Ziglar once said, “Tomorrow is the greatest labor saving device known to man”.

    I like Nike’s idea, “Just do it!”

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