Why Now is the Best Time to Get Things Done


A grad student had only two days to complete his thesis and decided that he would get everything in order before launching into his work.  He first made sure that no one would disturb him so he created a sign for his door which read, "Work in progress, do not disturb".  Once this was done, he brewed a pot of coffee and tidied up his desk.  With java in hand, he settled in to work on what would be his masterpiece.

Except that his laptop battery wasn't fully charged- better put that on the list of items to complete before getting things done.

Then there was the call from his mother, inquiring about his progress.  10 minutes later and he was back at his desk, ready to work.  Sadly, the thesis would not be done by deadline and our beloved grad student was left scrambling for an extension.

Our friend had succombed to the age-old pitfall of perfectionism.


When it comes to productivity, perfectionism can be a deadly bedfellow.  While it's not quite as dangerous as procrastination, it comes in a close second.  Our grad student caved to what Julie Morgenstern calls the "productivity nibblers".  These are the little actions that can easily sidetrack even the most productive person.

What kinds of well-intentioned actions did our friend give in to?

  • Making a sign for his door

  • Making some coffee

  • Charging his laptop

  • Talking to his mom on the phone

None of these are, on the surface, dangerous.  Who could argue that talking to mom on the phone isn't a good thing?  But if mom prevents you from getting your thesis done, drop the phone and get to work.


A key to Getting Things Done thinking is to put yourself in the right context for productive work.  By keeping an up-to-date list of your agreements with self and others, you can bang out some useful tasks when the moment hits you.  It also means that you can put aside, even if just temporarily, some well-intentioned items in order to focus on what's really important right now.

Our grad student wanted to set the mood for his work to get done.  Nothing wrong with that.  The problem was that he put "mood setting" ahead of truly doing.  Before he knew it, hours had gone by and we can all relate to the thought of losing vast amounts of time to seemingly trivial actions.


What could our grad student have done differently?  First of all, starting is very important.  I would suggest that any task needs to get some momentum under its belt in order to really reach "done".  Our friend could have skipped the elaborate task of making a sign for his door and just closed the darn thing.  If someone knocked, just ignore it.

By using some preventative maintenance, his laptop could have been in charging mode.  Something as small as charging a cell phone or laptop can go a long way.  That's a behavioral action that anyone can learn.

One final suggestion- don't wait for productive energy to hit you.  Sure, the mood is important but if you're feeling like you have some want-to for cleaning the garage, know that it won't be with you for very long. Jump right in and enjoy your desire to get things done.

This awareness of your own productive psyche is what usually separates the champs from those who wished they had more time to get things done.  Set yourself up for success by always having a capture tool on hand- a notebook, a smartphone, a voice recorder, etc.  That way, when inspiration hits, you're ready to handle just about anything.

Photo by Ayalan