The No-Fail Way To Stop Procrastinating

unnamed-2Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
I’m working on Before and After, a book about habit-formation, so I constantly ask myself, “What are the issues in my life that bug me, and how can I tackle them through habits?"
One problem: nagging tasks. It’s a secret of adulthood: Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started. I knew this, but nevertheless I’d accumulated a lengthy list of small, mildly unpleasant tasks that I kept putting off — in many cases, for months. Maybe years. These tasks weren’t urgent (which why they didn’t get done), but they weighed on my mind and sapped my energy. As I walked through my apartment, or sat at my desk, the accumulation of these little chores made me feel overwhelmed.
But, how could I form a single habit to cover a bunch of non-recurring, highly diverse tasks? I hit on an idea. Once a week, for one hour, I’d steadily work on these chores. An hour didn’t sound like much time, but it was manageable.
With this hour, I’d tackle only tasks where I had no deadline, no accountability, no pressure — because these were the tasks that weren’t getting addressed. That’s another secret of adulthood: Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time. But, although no one else cared when I replaced my office chair with the broken arm, or donated my daughters’ outgrown clothes to a thrift store, it made a difference to me.
I considered calling this time my “To-Do List Time.” Then I remembered a term from psychology, the “fluency heuristic,” which explains that an idea seems more valuable if it’s easier to say or think. An idea expressed in rhyme seems more convincing, which is why “haste makes waste” is more compelling than “hurrying fosters error.” I decided to name my new habit “power hour.”
unnamed-1Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
First, I made a list of the tasks to complete. That was easy and almost fun; I get a weird satisfaction from adding items to my to-do list. I didn’t allow myself to add any task that had to get done by a certain time; I couldn’t use power hour for planning my daughter’s birthday party or buying airplane tickets (for some reason, I loathe buying airplane tickets), because I knew these tasks would get done. And, I couldn’t use power hour for recurring tasks, like paying bills or answering emails, because I have different kinds of habits to cover repetitive chores. Power hour was time to accomplish those one-time tasks that weigh on my mind, but could be — and probably already have been — indefinitely postponed. For instance: make a photo album of our summer vacationl use up store credits; donate books to Housing Works; move pretend kitchen; round up and recycle batteries and devices.
It feels so good to cross a nagging task off the list. A friend once told me, “I finally cleared out my fridge, and now I feel like I can switch careers.” I knew exactly what she meant.
Power hour is enormously satisfying, because I’ve managed to chip away at tasks that were draining me. The joy of power hour reminds of another great habit that helps me manage the chaos: my one-minute rule. If I can do something in less than one minute, I don’t let myself procrastinate. I hang up my coat, put newspapers in the recycling, scan and toss a letter. Ever since I wrote about this rule in The Happiness Project, I’ve been amazed by how many people have told me that it has made a huge difference in their lives. These kinds of habits keep progress steady and manageable.
How about you? Do you have any strategies for staying on top of those little nagging tasks that mount up so quickly?

More from Living

While Hermione's life outside of Hogwarts didn't get nearly enough screentime in the Harry Potter movies, it's getting the credit it deserves on the ...
When ex-teen Rachel Gelmis was drug tested, she knew she was clean. But the test thought differently. Her results were, like, insanely positive for a lot ...
If you, like many people, would do just about anything to own a former Leonardo DiCaprio residence, you have a second chance. It's entirely possible that...
DIY cotton candy ice cream that doesn't require an ice cream maker? Winning
Any recent grads freaking out about their job prospects need not fear: Apparently the demand for exorcists has never been higher. The Telegraph reports ...
I don’t expect my son to be a saint. I just hope he grows up with the good sense to see bullying and fear-mongering for what they are
It's not every bottled water company that tells us we should be drinking tap water. But Just isn't like any other bottled water company we've heard of...
(Paid Content) Your next weekend away has to be in Toronto. Period
Ah, the great wedding gift dilemma. Do you give the couple a few dishes or a new shower curtain? Or do you just call it a day and hand the bride and groom ...
Tonight marks the first of three presidential debates between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Because of the debate's close proximity to New...
It's no secret that food is one of the best categories for nostalgia. Who doesn't wax poetic about snack foods like Dunkaroos? But not all of our favorite...
If you've got a Trader Joe's in your neighborhood, chances are it's your go-to supermarket. It's cheap, convenient, and the snacks are unbeatable. It ...
Turmeric has quickly become classified as one of those magic superfoods — you know, the ones that you're always hearing about. This spice is basically the ...
9:45 a.m. — Starbucks reward, bitches! OBV I get the most expensive thing that I can concoct. A Venti 5 shot soy latte. Yum