on letting tasks linger

This strategy for fighting procrastination aims particularly at the tasks we just can’t seem to start. Following through to completion is another challenge. But as they say, showing up is half the battle.

to do list copy

What started as tiny as a bullet point on your to do list has grown into a slobbering, snarling monster after two months of neglect. It could be going to the DMV, filling out paper work, returning phone calls, reworking a budget or a cleaning out a closet.

Why do we avoid doing the tasks we once deemed as necessary or beneficial enough to put on a list? There are countless reasons. But in short, something about the task intimidates us. Every time I think about registering a new car, I imagine gathering countless documents that may or may not need notarization and then sitting in a cold, stale room for a whole day. The thought makes me roll my eyes and push the task to a different corner of my mind so I can think other, less overwhelming thoughts. In that case, it’s the amount of effort I’m intimidated by.

If the intimidation of a item to do is a balloon, we must deflate the balloon just enough for us to feel comfortable taking the first step. The intimidation need not be popped completely, but just enough so that we don’t feel it has control of us.

The opportunity for intimidation deflation lies in the very moment we think about the task we’re avoiding. Instead of contemplating on the amount of effort required to complete the task, we should think only about the very first step. We need not even take that first step, only imagine it. The goal of this exercise is not to complete the task or even to start it, but to deflate the intimidation just enough so that we no longer feel controlled by it. If the task at hand is to register a new car, instead of feeling overwhelmed about all that needs happen, I can imagine myself taking just the first step: getting online and determining which documents are needed for registration. I don’t even have to commit to taking action. I’m simply considering what would need to happen first if I was ready to start the task. Something magical happens in this moment: I realize that the first step isn’t so bad. I gain a bit of confidence. I begin to feel like I’m in control, so much so that I just might take action. And once that first step is taken, I’ll gain momentum. I’ll likely feel motivated to push further than step one.

But what if the very first step is just that damn dreadful? What if the first step of registering the car is going to the court and learning that I have to pay $2000 worth of traffic and parking tickets before I can even get my license reinstated? In that case, I would redirect my attention from the very first step and look further into the future. What will accomplishing this task enable me to do down the line? What is the reason I put the item on the to-do list in the first place? Maybe reinstating my license and registering my car means I can sign up to drive for Lyft, start saving at a faster rate and finally be able to invest in my business. The possibility of a greater freedom then, is what will inspire me to get started.

Remember, this is about the getting starting. The goal here is simply to deflate intimidation just enough to feel confident about getting one step closer to where we want to be.



This is recalibration. It’s the practice of rebalancing the living space so that it resonates with the head space. Changes like this happen weekly in my house. If I feel stuck, stagnant, overwhelmed by my mind or just simply need a release, recalibration is my medicine.

Sound borrowed from Tommy Guerrero – Heat in the Streets from Road to Knowhere

paperwork pile up

Here’s the thing about procrastination: The longer we put it off, the more frightening it becomes. But when we finally sit down and get to it, we realize it’s not so bad after all. This is the case with all things declutter. It’s not ideal to let our papers pile up, but the greater the distance between ourselves and our clutter, the easier it is to let it go when the time comes.

The first step is to make a decision. Always. Not just in design; not just in declutter. In all aspects of life, we must first decide we want to make change before it can actually happen. Shift from “I should probably…” to “It’s time that I…” Decide on a day to sit down and organize your paperwork. If you have a sporadic schedule, choose a month instead of day. Plant the intention in your mind and commit to it.

When the opportunity arises, seize it. Start by adjusting your attitude. Instead of dreading the process, imagine how light you’ll feel as you eliminate chaos from your home. Create an uplifting atmosphere. Light candles, play music, listen to an audiobook or a podcast, invite your pet. Allow yourself to get excited about finally letting go.

The goal is to trash what you don’t need (likely the majority of the clutter), organize what’s left and develop habits that prevent pile up from returning. Most of your paperwork will fall into the categories that follow:

Junk mail
Trash. It. All.

Most likely all trash. Even the ones you kept just in case you decided to make a return. That was probably months ago and the receipt has probably expired. When given the option, only accept receipts you need. And even then, be real about your behavior. Are you a person that actually makes time for returns? If not, don’t bother with the receipt.

Bank Statements
Hard copies aren’t necessary. The info is neatly organized online and doesn’t take up space in your house. Shred em all and opt for paperless statements.

Same. The info is online. No duplicates necessary. Go paperless.

Insurance policies, investments and retirement accounts
It might help to have a hard copy of account details for reference. Organize into an expandable folder or a file drawer if you have one. More than likely though, you’ll end up calling customer service with your question anyway.

We hold onto manuals as if there’s major danger looming amid our electronics. And while malfunctions are imminent, it’s instinct for me to take my questions to YouTube. Thousands of people experienced the same problem and more importantly have found a fix. Plus, many product manuals are online as well. I prefer to keep manuals for speakers, TVs, game consoles, etc. But that’s just in case I decide to sell. And that’s only to make the purchase feel more official because the buyer too, probably takes their questions to YouTube.

Business cards
This one’s tough. I personally feel guilty for throwing away people’s cards. It feels like I’m trashing their effort. At the same time, people giving out business cards should know there’s a chance they might end up in the trash. Even business cards that get used only get used a couple times. Once you’re in communication with somebody you probably have their number locked in or their email address saved. Then the card is useless. Eventually, I accept that sometimes decluttering is cut throat and I trash what I don’t need.
Cut back on what you bring home by saving the number on site or taking a picture of the card. In some settings this might not be appropriate but do what you can when you can to reduce what comes home with you daily.

Will Read Eventually
Eventually is now. Start reading through the brochures, flyers and miscellany you kept for later reading. In less than three minutes you’ll know if it’s a document you need.