It took me far too long to learn this lesson, and it cost me a considerable amount of money, time, and aggravation.
If there's something you don't want to do, there's just about two good strategies for dealing with it:
Strategy #1: Understand the consequences of not doing it, and decide against doing it the first time you see it.
When you live in China as a foreigner, you're supposed to register at the police station within 24 hours of your arrival. While it's not particularly time-consuming (15 minutes max), it meant breaking up a day to walk to the station, paperwork, etc.
I did research on what would happen to me if I didn't register, and it turns out there's lots of local jurisdiction / judgment on it. The area I was living, a moderately foreigner-populated upscale part of the Chaoyang Business District, turned out to almost always issue a warning instead of fining you. Your registration info wasn't checked when you left the country, and it wasn't necessary for 99% of daily activities.
I was in and out of China multiple times on a business visa with "M" multiple entries. For a while, I said, "I'm too busy, I don't have time to register, I accept the consequences if the worst should happen." Even the worst wasn't so bad -- it was just a fine that capped at $500, and I thought it pretty unlikely I'd get one.
This is frequently the wrong call to make, not doing things you don't want to do. But if you really are going to punt on something, you're best off doing it quite early, making peace with the decision, accepting potential consequences, and then you can stop thinking about it.
Strategy #2: Do it quickly to get it off your head.
Later, they changed the visa rules and I was no longer easily eligible for the M multiple entries. I had to extend my visa regularly in Beijing.
At that point, I needed to register at the police station. So, my new way became just registering as soon as possible. One time, instead of going straight home from the airport, I stopped at the police station on the way back. Then I didn't have to think about it.
It's the strategy I take with taxes -- get them done as quickly as possible. Same with paying bills -- I try to pay as soon as they show up, so I don't have to remember it any more.
I wasn't always like this. I used to delay and put off stuff I didn't want to, and then wind up scrambling around at the last minute. Sometimes I'd be forced to pay expedited fees for a visa I procrastinated in getting, or other paperwork. Sometimes I'd need to FedEx someone a document instead of using the cheaper regular postal mail. Sometimes I'd have to get a more expensive flight, or I wouldn't be able to get the hotel or apartment I wanted to rent because I waited too close to the date of arrival and no space was left.
Why do people do that? Well, obviously we have a natural aversion to doing things we don't want to do.
But there's a gigantic downside to waiting too long, and it's not the missed opportunities or extra fees --
It's that the stuff lives on as a nightmare in your subconcious.
When you have something hanging over your head you don't want to do -- or worst, when your lifestyle involves delaying painful or annoying activities as long as possible -- you wind up living in a whirl of nagging commitments that are stalking you, ready to turn from little annoyances into bigger problems.
It's not a good way to live.
The rule is, "Get it off your head!" You want to eliminate annoyances as quickly as possible, if you're going to do them. If you let them live on in your psyche for a while before doing them, they drain you.
Are there other ways? Could you delegate away, throw money at the problem, or get creative?
Sometimes, yes -- but that's handling it and getting it off your head, as described above.
And sometimes... you actually just can't. There's been plenty of times when I spent two or three times as long trying to get creative to avoid doing some pain in the neck thing, instead of just doing it.
It's really not recommended.
Make your mantra this -- Get it off your head.
You don't want nagging annoyances living in your head. Decide right away not to do it and accept the potential consequences, or do it ASAP. It's the only way to live if you want to be productive, engaged, and not have neurotic stress creeping up on you all the time.
This is something I could be better at. I think for me, the subconscious reason I procrastinate on stuff I don't want to do is that I have this lurking fear that there is an infinite amount of it, and so I think, well, if I start doing it all as soon as possible I'll never have any time to myself. I'll always need to clean or follow up on some email or do laundry or do investment maintenance or find a mechanic to fix that weird thing with the brakes or whatever. So my reaction is to say, well, I'll just have to steal time for myself from the endless stream of minutiae.
It's not good because it leaves me with a low-level anxiety, always feeling vaguely guilty and trying to forget about things, the judge and jury in my head always saying well I should be doing something else. I agree I'd feel a lot better if I were absolutely on top of all this stuff.
Do you find that you actually get to where you're on top of it all? Or is a continuum, and you're still at some point just deciding to be OK with kicking some other cans down the road because there's not enough time in the day to do every last thing?
I should write about making things sacred, which is a key part of this. I do whatever I've marked "sacred" in that time period before I do lower level stuff, nuisances, etc.
The big gain in quality of life comes from accepting the consequences to not doing some things you don't want to do, and then quickly doing the ones you do decide to do. I'll try to write more on it at some point.
Totally agree: "Make your mantra this -- Get it off your head.
One of the reasons I like David Allen's work so much is he has a similar perspective - "mind like water."
Brian Tracy calls it 'eating the frog.' If you have to eat a frog, might as well get it over with!
I read Eat That Frog back in '09 and I was wholly convinced it was the way I was going to live my life from then on.
Turns out it was really hard. Eating frogs first thing in the morning is a bitch.
Question from a reader -
One thing that I'm wondering, and figured that I should send before I go to sleep and forget it... For certain kinds of tasks (having discussions about more abstract goal things, writing emails to friends, commenting on LW, etc.) I'm really motivated, and need to be restrained from doing them.
With other tasks, I'm nowhere near as motivated, and have trouble starting them. Since I'm still a student, not doing this kind of work just isn't an option.
In the long term, I'm hoping to just do more of the things I'm motivated for, and fewer of the ones I'm not. I'm willing to buckle down and do work in subjects that I'm less motivated for if I see how it clearly relates to my goals (last year I spent a few hours trying to work out the geometry kinks for a robot part -- it was a mess).
Right now, I'm just reminding myself that its really not hard once I start it, and that it goes quickly if I just do it.
Two things strike me about the "what type of credit card" (followed by the inevitable dropdown Visa / MC / Amex / Discover) question we always get on website checkouts:
1) The law of unintended consequences
2) Developers sometimes are lemmings
The reality is, the question"what type of credit card" happened because one programmer somewhere put that into his shopping cart code, and someone copied his code/layout, and then someone copied this code, and before you know it, everyone's asking that question. Hence, the law of unintended consequences.
The irony is, this question is irrelevant! Here's what most people don't know: If a credit card starts with the digit "3" then it's always Amex. If it starts with "4" it's always Visa. "5" is always MasterCard and "6" is always Discover. So if programmers just put a little extra effort into their shopping cart code, they could easily discern what type of card it is. For example, a card that starts with "3715" will be Amex, "4024" will be Visa, etc.