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Confessions of a reformed procrastinator

I don't know about you, but I'm a great beginner of projects, just tops at starting things. But I'm not so hot at finishing them. Recently, I became aware of how many things were waiting around the house to be finished and how guilty I felt as I walked by each one. In the bedroom were two books, overdue at the library, that I kept meaning to read before I fell asleep at night. In the kitchen was a recipe file, half organized, with odds and ends stacked beside it waiting to be neatly filed away "when I got the time."

In the bathroom a windowful of leggy geraniums shouted to be repotted. A pair of slacks I started altering five months ago hung on the back of a closet door. In the basement, a perfectly good desk chair had been sitting for two years waiting to be refinished.

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These little jobs nag away at me, and perhaps at you too, without our realizing it. They silently accuse us of being lazy, unorganized, and of not planning and using our time wisely. If we were decent, worthwhile human beings, they scold, we wouldn't have all this clutter around waiting to be done.

In a spurt of energy one morning I went through the house and listed on a note pad all the unfinished projects I had waiting and then noted beside each an estimate of how much time it would take to finish each job. To my amazement, these nagging chores filled eight pages. It would take an estimated 88 1/2 hours, or more than two 40-hour weeks, to complete everything I had started.

Obviously, I couldn't take the next two weeks off to complete low-priority items. So, instead, I did this. First, I piled them in conspicuous places in each room. (I have an understanding family!) Then I scheduled a time on weekends and evenings to complete one roomful of projects at a time. Doing this one room at a time seemed to make it less overwhelming. Setting a time more definite than "when I get to it" helped also.

When I finished a job, I spent time looking at it, feeling good about having finished it, and letting it really sink in that I had actually completed it. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for completing the job and took a few minutes break to enjoy my accomplishment.

Writing those jobs down in a list and facing the amount of time it would actually take me to complete them all gave me a better perspective on beginning other projects. Now, before I begin something that may take eight to ten hours to complete, I ask myself, "Am I willing to look at this for the next six months while it waits its turn to be completed?"

Frequently the answer is no. It isn't that important. More and more, I only begin projects that are worth adding to my "projects to finish when I get time" list. Thus, I save myself the agony of having things lying around unfinished to nag me each time I pass them.

Getting a realistic appraisal of how much I've got started and how much time each task will actually take to complete not only makes for greater peace of mind, but I find I actually get more finished than ever before, feel less overwhelmed, and best of all, enjoy doing the project more.


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