Podcast 117: Just do it!

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This is podcast 117 and it’s called Just do it! I guess I have to mention Nike so they don’t sue me for co-opting their slogan. Here’s some weird trivia for you. That slogan was inspired by murderer Gary Gilmore’s last words before he was executed: “Let’s do it.” Maybe “inspired” isn’t quite the right word there. Anyway, strange, huh?

What I mean by that statement is similar to what I talked about in my podcast “Make decisions, then take action” in January 2017 (if you want to look it up). It’s not enough just to make a decision. If you don’t act on it, you’re still stuck. In The Two Minute Rule episode from September 2016, I talked about getting those little tasks off your list fast instead of procrastinating.

Yesterday I worked with a client on a giant pile of mail she’d put off even opening, much less sorting and processing. She was eager to get to it because the cabinet it was in was now full and a new pile was starting on top of her printer. About a third of the mail went straight to the recycle bin without needing to be opened. By the end we had a small stack to file and a smaller stack of action items. More than 80% was done away with.

I’m making an example of her because of a rebate offer we encountered in the pile. It was for $3 off a bottle of wine. She had the receipt clipped to it but hadn’t filled out the little form. She sighed and said, “I have to do this form, and then I have to get an envelope and then get a stamp.” This was why she’d put it off; it seemed like it would take a bunch of time and energy. Time and energy she predicted she’d have in the future when she saw the form again. Yes, we tend to do this! Unfortunately, we’re usually wrong!

I encouraged her to just fill out the form, stick it in the envelope and put a stamp on it. It would take about two minutes. She wrote out her address. Then she saw she needed the UPC code so she searched around her kitchen for several minutes looking for the bottle. Found it. Added the code. Examined the receipt for the purchase date; not always easy to find, and she’d forgotten by now. Then she dug up an envelope and a stamp; her last one!

I congratulated her for getting that task done, even though with the cost of the stamp she’d really only get about $2.50 back. She looked at the form and smiled but then suddenly frowned and said ‘oh, no!” Turns out the offer expired two weeks ago. So we actually just wasted about ten minutes on it.

And this, my friends, is why you should just do it.

Here are the takeaways. If she’d done it the same day she bought the wine

  • she would have had the bottle handy to get the code from
  • she wouldn’t have had to scrutinize the receipt for the date
  • it never would have gotten into her to do pile
  • she wouldn’t have wasted time over the past three months seeing that form multiple times, pondering filling it out and deciding to pass it over once again. Every time you look at a task and put it off, you create a little anxiety seed that becomes a field of anxiety weeds.
  • Finally, by doing it right away it would only have taken two minutes, or less, without all the searching and agonizing that made it take much, much longer

When you commit to doing tasks the moment they come up, you circumvent resistance. Resistance, according to author Stephen Pressfield, is the strongest force on earth. Resistance comes up when we are confronted with a task that seems hard, or time consuming, or challenging. Every moment we put it off, those negative feelings grow. You may not be entirely conscious of it, but a pile of undone to do’s gnaws at you and erodes your sense of being a productive and competent person.

Conversely, seizing on a task immediately doesn’t give you time to activate resistance. It can also forestall procrastination, the cousin of resistance. According to the Procrastination Research Group (you can look that up online), we suffer from “cognitive distortions” that make us procrastinate, meaning that we routinely misjudge tasks. We think they’ll take longer than they actually will, we believe that we’ll more motivated to do them tomorrow and we’re convinced we have to be in the mood to do them.

What you can do right now: look at your to do list, or an old one that has tasks you’ve been putting off for awhile. Pick the first one that you are capable of doing right now and just plunge in and get through it. Focus on the action of just doing it.