Clean Your Plate
Buffet, or Haute Cuisine?
What feels better? Going to a buffet to overfill your plate and stuff yourself in a frenzy, yet leave food on your plate? Or sitting down to a well-portioned meal, and cleaning everything off your plate in relaxed, comfortable setting? When I look at the options in black and white, I clearly would opt for the well-portioned meal. Yet in practice, I too often go for the “stuffing myself” option.
The same goes for time management. I would like to make a list of just the things I need to accomplish, and finish them all with an allowance for leisure at the end. However, I usually find myself “stuffing” my daily task list with twice as much (or more) than I could possibly finish in a day.
Why is that? It would seem that I am gluttonous with my desire to fill every moment of every day with productive activity. Yet it doesn’t play out that way at all. I always start with good intentions, and “load up” my list with all the things I desire to accomplish. Before the ink is dry on my list however, I go straight for the dessert tray, and play games, watch TV, and generally flake on my intentions. If I get 50% of my task list done, that’s a “good” day for me.
Is this pattern helpful and healthy in the long-run? I think not. So what should I do to change my behavior? First, I need to understand it. Then, and only then do I have a shot at “fixing” it.
I don’t pretend to understand all of the reasons I over-plan. I have, however, discovered one very, very important reason. I have learned that my over-planning is, in fact, a sneaky form of procrastination, disguised as pragmatism. All those minutes (and hours) that I spend at my desk, with my head buried in my planner, meticulously writing and re-writing my task list, is time that I am not actually accomplishing anything.
This powerful and humbling insight is somewhat painful to admit. Here I am, wanting to be responsible, organized, and efficient. Yet it’s only a façade. It’s just a way to justify deferring productive action. Boy did that hit me right between the eyes.
There are probably many other reasons why I over-plan. For one thing, sitting at my desk sipping coffee and leafing through my planner is much more pleasant than getting up and loading the dishwasher. Also, as long as my tasks are just items on a daily task list, they are perfect. The minute they become reality, I have to struggle with settling for something less than perfection. Again, not as pleasant as visualizing that desired outcome. Either way, it all comes back to procrastination. And that is something I can deal with.
Okay, so I’ve admitted that I have a problem. I have identified why I do it. What’s the next step? What is the solution? And I mean a solution that doesn’t involve writing another plan with action steps!
I have brainstormed a few ideas. I will share them here, just to prime the pump.
- Plan tomorrow before going to bed. Then, in the morning, start your day with doing something, rather than writing about doing something.
- Pick three things that you must do, and put a star by them. Don’t let yourself do anything else until these three things are done. Action will break the inertia that you’ve slipped into, and get the ball rolling.
- Reward yourself for good behavior. You don’t have to be 100% in any given day, but a solid 70% is a realistic goal. Plan a reward for that level.
I could go on, but honestly, it’s time to stop writing and start doing. Later, when I’ve completed my 70% goal, I’m going to reward myself with a little recreational reading. I think I’ll re-read my book: Procrastinators Unite! Tomorrow. Available on Amazon. Perfect gift for Christmas!