The Power of Planning Ahead

People suffer needlessly by postponing tasks until the last minute. A lot of tasks we race to finish at the 11th hour could be completed with ease if started early enough.

You don't feel the need to start doing your taxes in January -- what's the hurry? There's still plenty of time. February and March pass, still no action. By April you spring into a whirl of anxious activity. You scramble to obtain the correct forms. You frantically start gathering your receipts, but because there isn't enough time to find all of them, you miss out on legitimate deductions. You may even be forced to do it all yourself because every CPA is booked. What was unpleasant to begin with has become a much worse ordeal due to procrastination.

Don't Procrastinate -- Plan!

The solution is to do do things before they need to be done. Make the most important task your first task of the week. Then, no matter what problems arise later, the most important thing got done. Also remember that things often take longer than we expect. If a report is due next week, schedule time a few days in advance to prepare it. This way, if more time is needed, you've got it.

We know that working up to the last minute before leaving for the airport is not worth the risk of missing your plane, so we leave for the airport early. The same principle can be applied in other areas. Call the pharmacy to have that prescription refilled before the last pill is gone. Buy an extra battery for your cell phone before it goes dead. Take your clothes in for dry cleaning before every single suit you own is dirty. Whether it's your office printer, your teeth, or your car, taking care of problems as soon as they begin to surface will save you time, money, and anxiety. If you make this a habit you'll be amazed at how much easier life is.

Schedule Appointments With Yourself

You feel some pressure to go in for a check up if your car's making funny noises or you have a toothache. But how about projects with long-term benefits but no immediate pressure? These are the hardest things to start and stay motivated on. The solution is to set arbitrary deadlines, then schedule appointments with yourself to work towards them. That's right, make an appointment with yourself and enter it in your appointment book or software! Then, if someone tries to infringe on this timeslot, say "Sorry, I have a previous commitment." You don't have to tell them that your "previous commitment" is to spend 3 hours quietly working on your new marketing plan.

Appointments also are useful for personal things you keep not getting around to, like exercising or calling your dear friend who moved to another city. You may end up doing it at noon on Friday instead of 3 pm on Wednesday, but if you don't enter it into your schedule, you won't get it done at all!

Jan Jasper has been training busy people to work smarter, not harder since 1988. She helps clients streamline their systems and procedures, form optimum work habits, use technology efficiently, and manage information overload. Her specialty is helping people who've already worked with professional organizers and coaches and are still not able to get it all done. Jan is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press). Jan is the office efficiency spokesperson and radio voice for IKON, one of the world's leading providers of products and services that help businesses communicate. Prior to that, she was the office organization expert on Jan has appeared on radio and TV all over North America and has been quoted in numerous publications.

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