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Tackling the Dreaded “I’ll Get to It When I Have Time” Project

If you are like me, organizational consolidation is the worst. Call it filing, cleaning out files, or the worst, consolidating two locations into one. These are projects that I not only dislike, I hate. Rick’s Second Law of Organization Dynamics states, “That which you hate to do always grows worse due to procrastination.”  Always!  In fact, putting off the project results in exponential growth in the size of the mental challenge. Ring a bell?

After staring at open files next to a full filing cabinet for months, I finally screwed up my resolve to tackle this messy monster. In less than 4 hours, I had it done, and the momentum carried over into the rest of my office. My “place for everything and everything in its place” wife was even impressed.

The 80/20 rule definitely applies to such projects. For 80% of the time, I was convinced my efforts were not showing progress. In fact, I was sure my mess was getting worse. Here are the steps I experienced for the first 3+ hours:

  1. Started with enthusiasm (Good for you, you can do it, etc. Self-talk).

  2. Quickly became overwhelmed as every step created more questions and more space to organize (Why did I think I could do this in a few hours?).

  3. Continued to push on with alternating moments of despair and mindless paralysis (sitting on the floor surrounded by papers and finding myself thinking of surfing for 5 minutes. Off the daydream and back to despair).

  4. Lose track of time (Into filing and culling and really in the “flow”); still wondering if this project can be done.

The final 30 minutes, the 20%, brought everything together amazingly quickly:

  1. Start to see some progress and have a sense of where everything will go.

  2. Energy expands and decisions on where to file things come more quickly and clearer.

  3. Thinking you’re almost there seems to take twice as long as you expect to finally complete all the last details.

After completing the dreaded project, I felt like I won a triathlon. In the midst of the euphoria, a little voice inside my head whispered, “Don’t let this happen again. Take the time each day to leave this space the way it looks now, or else!”  I mentally responded, “I got it.”  For a week now, I do see myself taking the extra seconds here and there to put files back, handle items once, and avoid the building of the “I’ll put it there and figure it out later” pile on my desk. And my daily affirmation trigger, Pick It Up, has a new meaning.

The 80/20 rule looks more like the 80/20/80 rule to me. Most of your life is spent going through situations harder than expected and self-doubt and despair always arrive early. Yet, just keeping on to the final 20% allows you to see 80% of the progress and find the energy to do it again. Next challenge pleaseJ!

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