I was a really messy kid.
Growing up, my parents referred to me as Pig-Pen…often. Yeah, the kid surrounded by a dust cloud from Peanuts. I had the uncanny ability to make a mess in a matter of seconds, no matter where I was or what I was doing.
I was a walking crime scene, leaving evidence EVERYWHERE: dirty dishes in the sink, change from my pockets on the counter, a movie case left out on the living room floor, or a blanket left unfolded on the couch.
Now, over the years I’ve gotten a bit better, but it wasn’t until recently that I had a breakthrough, thanks to three simple words taught to me by my friend Brett over at Art of Manliness.
If you can successfully implement this rule consistently, I guarantee that not only will your life improve, but the lives of the people IN your life — roomates, a signifigant other, or your family – will improve as well.
This is going to sound WAY too simple to be effective, but trust me.
Are you ready?
“DO IT NOW!”
I tend to leave things out after using them, and put things off until later when I’m “less busy.” Sound familiar?
It wasn’t until about 10 of these things happened at the same time one night that I realized I needed to make a change.
A few weeks back, I didn’t have any work to do and was looking forward to an evening of playing Batman: Arkham Asylum (I realize I’m late to the party of this one, but fantastic game). Before firing up the game, I walked over to a local restaurant and grabbed a burrito bowl to bring home…burrito bowl and Batman? Win.
I walked in the door, and that’s when I noticed just how bad my “I’ll do it later” behavior had become:
- I went to grab a fork, but all of my forks were in the sink or dishwasher.
- After cleaning off a fork and eating, I went to throw my food away, but there was no trash bag in the trash can, as I had taken the trash out earlier that day and failed to put a new liner in.
- After a few hours of playing Arkham Asylum, I was pretty tired and wanted to read before bed. I walked into my bedroom and discovered the giant pile of laundry on my bed I had neglected to fold and put away earlier that day. I was so lazy, I just pushed the clothes to one side of the bed and got in (shut up, you know you’ve done it too!).
- I opened up my Kindle Paperwhite (to read Jack Reacher #8), and it died after 5 minutes – I’d forgotten to charge it the night before when it gave me a low battery warning.
- So I woke up on a pile of unfolded laundry (well played, Steve), and wandered into the kitchen to make a smoothie and a cup of green tea. My blender was full of water (“soaking”) in the sink from my previous smoothie the evening before…and so were all of my mugs.
It was at this point in the morning that I said to myself, “Steve, you’re an idiot. And lazy. And an idiot. It’s time to make a change.”
And that’s when I remembered a video from Art of Manliness five months earlier that I had watched but hadn’t really bothered to pay much attention to.
Stop making extra work, fool!
After I watched this video and noticed just how much extra work I was making for myself – just how much time I was wasting by putting things off. Instead, I decided to only deal with something ONCE, and then move on. Big thanks to my friend Leo Babauta for this tip.
I was doubling the amount of work and brain power required to get things done:
- If I put my coat on the back of a chair, eventually I have to pick it up and then move it to the closet. That’s two moves, instead of just one.
- After eating dinner, putting my dishes in the sink instead of in the dishwasher is two moves: Eventually they’ll have to end up in the dishwasher, why not just do it the first time?
- Leaving things in the sink to “soak” is two moves. In order to use that item again, I would have to get the soap out and clean it. Why didn’t I just clean it immediately so that it’s ready for when I needed it again? Too many moves!
- Reading an email and then reminding myself to respond later (only have to read it again and then respond) is two moves. Why not just take the time to read once, respond immediately, and move on? Less work!
“Eventually” is still my responsibility
On top of that, I came to the realization that no matter how long I put something off, I still had to deal with it eventually. And not only that, but I would often have to deal with a LOT of things I put off…all at the same time.
Apathy does not allow us to neglect responsibility: We’re gonna have to deal with it at some point, usually when we’re too tired to deal with it (but have to, like laundry on the bed), or because we’re up against a deadline, (like when our rent is due but we put off buying stamps which we need to mail the damn check in)!
Not only that, but we also are adding the extra mental stress of having that thing having over our head: When we have to walk past the sink full of dishes, look at the half-finished paper that needs to be finished, or see the laundry that needs to be folded, we mentally take on the weight of those things!
No joke, I think I’ve had to file for an extension to file my taxes each of the past four years - not because I was sooooo busy with life (that’s a lie), but because I continually pushed them off until it was too late, making extra work for myself in the process. In this Simpsons clip, I am definitely Homer, not Ned (“I have a to-do pile!??!?!”).
Here are some other things that I would put off, only to have to deal with them later or get screwed because I ran out of time:
- Dumping laundry on my bed to fold later – The same goes for sheets…is there anything worse than wanting to go to bed and then remembering that you still have to put sheets on the bed?
- Not working out when I’m full of energy, saying “I’ll do it later.” Suddenly, it’s 11 o’clock and I haven’t worked out yet – then I have to work out at home or not at all, because the gym is already closed. Damn!
- Not writing a Nerd Fitness article during the day because there are more fun things online (Twitter! Facebook! This!), and soon it’s midnight and I have to write an article due the next day…Sorry, team Nerd Fitness, I’m definitely getting much better!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken steps to level up my life.
I want you to level up with me.
Take the “Do It Now” challenge.
Stop making extra work for yourself – just remind yourself to freaking DO IT NOW, which accomplishes three crucial things:
- Less work - Why do more when you can do less and get the same results?
- It gets done - It’s gonna have to happen eventually, why not now?
- Less mental stress - Every day spent procrastinating is another day spent worrying about that thing. Do it now, and move on with your life!
When faced with a task, you have a split-second to decide to “Do It Now” rather than put it off til later. The second you start to waver, it becomes easier and easier to rationalize the lazy behavior.
- If you are going to work out today – do it immediately upon waking up. Certainly do it before you sit down on the couch to watch TV after work. If you wait ’til the end of the day, you’ll be out of willpower and you’ll put it off til tomorrow. Get off your ass and go do it now! Like, right now. It only takes 20 minutes. If you can’t get yourself to believe in 20 minutes, just drop and do 5 push ups. Go for a five minute walk. The important part is getting started, so put on that hard hat and GO TO WORK!
- If you’re going to cook meals for this week, cook them all on Sunday. Get everything done ahead of time, so you don’t have excuses when work gets busy and you get to use the lame “oops, forgot to cook, off to McDonalds!” Excuse. You’re better than that!
- If you spend all day in your email inbox, stop making more work for yourself. Read, respond immediately, or archive. I cover email productivity in my Guide to Productivity (big props to Jared from AwayFind for the email tips). I guarantee that this one trick alone will save you hours a week.
- Do the dishes immediately after dinner, or start cleaning while you’re cooking the rest of the meal – put them right to the dishwasher or wash them right away. When your laundry is done, fold and put away immediately. If you have mail, open it and deal with it posthaste
How to follow through
Yes, I know, easier said than done - we are stubborn creatures of habit, and making these changes can be difficult. However, change is certainly not impossible. Here are some tips to make sure you actually follow through with your goals:
- Reinforce “Do it Now” CONSTANTLY. I have my post-it notes above my laptop to remind me to just do the damn thing now. Set a reminder on your calendar to ping you twice a day that just says “Do It Now.” If you are not constantly reminded up front, you’ll forget and slip right back into old habits.
- Make it a focal point for the next 30 days. Don’t try to change anything else while you try “Do it Now.”
- Make yourself accountable – Put out a ‘lazy’ jar. Every time you catch yourself putting something off that you should do now, add 5 bucks to the jar (this money gets donated to a charitable cause…or if you’re maniacal, the political party that you oppose). Conversely, every time you do something now that you would normally put off, give yourself a check mark in a google doc or on a piece of paper! 50 check marks = new pair of pants, video game, or a trip to space (budget dependent).
- Make others make you accountable. Recruit your housemates, significant other, or children. Ask them to call you out when you’re slacking. It’ll be a fun game for them to call you out guilt free, and it will make you take personal responsibility for your actions.
Are you with me?
Do you have a funny tale that ends with “I can’t believe I was that lazy?”
What steps are you going to take to make sure that doesn’t happen again?
Leave a comment – I’d love to hear it!
PS: Greetings from Florianopolis, Brazil…one of the most beautiful places in the world, full of quite possibly the most beautiful people in the world. I’m here for just a few days, recovering from the chaotic adventures during Carnival in Rio De Janeiro. It was by far the biggest and craziest party I’ve ever attended. Tchau!