How to Stop ‘Later’ From Meaning ‘Never’

Protect your most important tasks from getting tossed into the perpetual ‘someday’ file

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

TThe writer Shane Parrish, perhaps best known as a self-improvement guru for the Wall Street crowd, recently tweeted, “The four most dangerous words to accomplishing your dreams are: ‘I’ll do it later.’”

If you’re someone who hasn’t started that new crocheting hobby you bought supplies for five years ago or made any headway on the proposal for that project you wanted to pitch to your boss, these words may strike a chord. We’re often so busy tackling our daily must-dos that our wish-to-dos, the endeavors that give our life pleasure and meaning, get put off — sometimes forever.

At times, we really are swamped with a full plate of commitments that need to come first. But, too often, there are deeper reasons the tasks we’ve marked “later” get pushed into a “someday” file that never sees the light of day.

Procrastination is a major culprit. Maybe you feel an inner conflict about a task or are scared of trying something new because you’d be embarrassed to fail or don’t want to lose what you’ve already achieved.

We’re also easily distracted. It’s too easy, every day, to get drawn into the cascading layers of new ideas, tasks, and urgencies.

But “later” doesn’t have to mean “never.” You simply need to implement some processes to protect those less urgent but no less meaningful tasks. Here are a few suggestions.

Set a deadline

The simplest solution is the deadline: Set a date for task completion, commit to it, and do it.

If the task is extra important, you can separate the deadlines for completing the task and actually delivering it so you’re less intimidated to get started and have more time to review.

Write it down

In order to keep your important to-dos from falling into the vortex of never, it’s best to record them in a place where you know you’ll review them. I write everything I want to get done for the day in a text file that I review at the end of the day, and I use Google Tasks to keep track of my progress on things (since I’ll always see the list in Google Calendar or Gmail). The more important tasks have due dates accompanying them. Most days, I’ll review both lists in full.

It’s up to you which tools you use. Some people use Notion or take notes in a notebook or or index cards. Others record their tasks using voice memos, à la Michael Scott in The Office with his movie ideas. The important thing is to find some way to capture your tasks and make sure to review that list regularly.

Make a tiny bit of progress every day

This solution is particularly applicable to bigger projects, like building a side business. It’s the opposite of procrastination: Instead of deferring your tasks related to “someday,” you carve out a small piece of time — as little as 15 minutes — in order to make progress on it every day. You may also want to minimize the scope of your tasks, turning your projects into microprojects. The momentum you gain from these little steps might be just enough to push you to the finish line.

I write about personal and collective growth. Author ‘There Is No Right Way to Do This’

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