Do it now or do it later—that could be life’s biggest decision-making challenge.
I don’t know about you, but one of the most difficult things I have to decide is when I’m going to take care of the little details of life – and when I’ll put them off.
There are examples literally scattered all around my house. I have socks on the floor that haven’t been picked up for a while and packages from Amazon I’ve never even opened yet.
Contrast those little things to the big things — my need to keep the train running — the project due tomorrow, the emails I haven’t answered, the calls I haven’t made, and the deals I haven’t closed.
In my mind, there’s a reason for skipping what I think is the little stuff. Organizing my garage or straightening out my clothes drawers will mean that I don’t use that hour to meditate, pray or play. I’m a constant “get-it-done machine” if I focus constantly on the small details. When I focus on the immediate details, I find myself drifting from one immediate task to another.
Getting everything done is not an option. What I choose to do comes down to which balls I’m going to drop and who I’m I going to disappoint.
I go along thinking I’m doing fine on handling what comes up, and then chaos suddenly appears.
I’m hurrying to get off to a meeting and decide it’s time to take a shower. I step out of my clothes and into the shower, and it would seem that I should take 60 extra seconds and pick up my clothes and put them into the dirty clothes hamper.
But suddenly I have a better plan. When I get back out of the shower, I’m going to take all of the dirty clothes and put them in the washing machine, so I’ll pick up the ones on the floor when I’m on the way to do that and gain a few seconds.
But Just as I step out of the shower the phone rings with a call I have to take, and then there’s a shout from the other room that we’re about to be late for our meeting.
So I quickly start to dress, the clothes I took off are still right there on the bathroom floor where I left them, and none of the other dirty clothes made it to the washing machine.
What’s more, the clean clothes from the last washer load haven’t been folded yet, so I’m diving into the pile of clean clothes looking for a pair of clean socks to put on.
So no problem, I’m going to take care of it all when I get back from the meeting, but then I realize that I have a morning’s worth of emails that need to be answered, so the clothes didn’t make it to the washing machine, the clean clothes are still unfolded, and now I step over the clothes I left on the bathroom floor that I shed so quickly, and now I don’t even notice them.
I tell Carol that since we work from home we really need to hire a maid and a butler, but that’s a hard sell that won’t happen in my lifetime.
I really don’t consider myself to be a procrastinator. Most people think I’m pretty productive.
The question is, am I doing the right things? I file my taxes on time (with a lot of help) and make most of my deadlines. It’s the little things that drive me batty—do I do them now or later?
The Two Voices that Talk to Me
In order to understand our dilemma, we have to understand that most of us have two voices in our heads, one saying “do it now and you’ll be happy it’s done,” and the other one saying “that’s really for later when you have the time.”
Carol will forgive me for socks on the floor, but what I’m working on needs my focus now—pick up the clothes later.
Each voice—do it now or do it later—makes some really good arguments for what they’re telling you to do or not to do.
One voice says, “take care of the tiny details now because they add up—it will improve our lifestyle with everything up to date and we’ll save time later. If you don’t, you’ll be totally disorganized and eventually, no one will come to see you and the neighbors will circulate a petition asking you to move because of the mattress that’s been on your lawn for weeks.”
The do-it-later voice says, “If all you do is wash the dishes and sort your socks, there are so many of those things that all you’ll ever do is take care of details. You’ll be constantly busy on minutiae, and really boring.”
Do it Now/Do it Later – Both Voices are Right
Both the “do it now” voice and the “wait until later” voice are right in their urgings. My task is to decide when to listen to one instead of the other.
Most of us as people are wired to listen more to one voice or the other—take care of the details now or focus on larger outcomes and let the details take care of themselves.
There is no right or wrong way to manage your life. There are trade-offs on which voice you’ll listen to most.
Albert Einstein, a famous intuitive, paid as little attention to daily details as possible. As a child he showed up at the wrong school for class at times. He spent as much time as possible simply in pure thought. His thinking about the theory of relativity makes possible computer functionality and space launches. Thomas Edison, a sensor, invented the light bulb and created the electric grid by meticulous attention to detail.
So How Do I Manage the Two Voices?
So how do I manage the two voices in my head—the voice that says take care of it now and the voice that says take care of it later; you have more important things to do than to mow the lawn or organize your files?
Here are a few ideas:
- Get comfortable with focusing on what you do best—the larger issues or the critical details. As a person who is really bad at details, the voice of “do it now” is always reminding me of the details I haven’t done.
As I’ve grown more comfortable with the value of what I do, I’m less critical of the details I don’t take care of. You can manage the voices as you grow confident of your own worth and effectiveness.
- If You’re wired for details, make sure you’re in the right place to make your best contribution. If you don’t like strategy and theory, don’t let the inner voice criticize you. Attention to immediate details is critical.
How much detail is involved in getting a package to arrive in one day as Amazon does? Our business would never work if we didn’t have team members who took care of the mechanics and the details.
- Play to your strengths, but don’t let your weaknesses destroy you. I focus on strategy and planning, but those around me remind me of the details I have to master and execute. Without the ability to execute details quickly, my value to the organization will be limited.
- If you can’t delegate, you die. I have a hard time turning the things I do well over to someone else.
If it’s not my plan, I tend to think it’s not a good plan. If you write something, I want to rewrite it better. If I didn’t clean it, it’s probably not clean. Delegating, although sometimes painful, is key to controlling your time.
- Be comfortable with the tension between the two voices. They are there for a purpose, weigh your decision after listening to the voices, make it, and move on. As much as possible ignore the chatter.
The time I feel the most overwhelmed with making choices, big and small, is in the Holiday Season. When someone says it’s Thanksgiving, I’m thinking, “Didn’t we just do that?” At Christmas, my first reaction is, “Wasn’t that just last month?” Whatever your religious community is, we’re all impacted by the Holiday Season and the sense of being overwhelmed can be even more intense.
In earlier days I would actually try to ignore the holidays. I thought holidays were for wimps. But when the two voices are pushing on you in opposite directions and you can’t move forward, you lose a lot of life because time—not life—becomes your master.
You have to be able to say, “I’m not listening to either one of you guys.” They can begin their chatter at the beginning of the New Year. Now is the time for family and friends.