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New on Zen Habits: The Little Productivity Tip of a Zen Master. Comments welcome!
Post written by Leo Babauta. A little while back I ran into a friend, Susan O'Connell (Zen Master and Vice President of the San Francisco Zen Center), and she did something old fashioned. When I s...
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Lately I've been telling myself - "If you think it, do it" mostly in the context of putting the laundry away, washing the pan in the sink and writing the grandkids a postcard. Things like that can be done now -
I should call my friend who I think of often and never do - Call!
I haven't (gotten a massage, checked my blood pressure) in a long time - Schedule!
The big thing would be to find that balance, else my attention would be bouncing. Prioritizing and choosing still definitely has to play a role.
Whenever I use this productivity tip, it makes me feel like a rock star! You get this great sense of accomplishment and freedom from excess "to-dos."
For me, the ability to actually get things done is incredibly important, but it's also a way to train myself out of procrastination. Things matter most in the present. A quote I heard recently: "If it's not happening right now, it's not happening." I find that useful on so many levels.
I've been doing this since a few years ago and it really works :)
Regarding emails, people keep asking why do I delete them even if I use gmail, but I'm so happy my inbox isn't cluttered, I couldn't look at it with hundreds of emails still to be read.... :D
I understand the concept, and totally agree with it. But what if you decide to deal with something once, and while you are dealing with it, and important interruption comes? Let's say you are responding to a long email that's really important, and a collegue or spouse says thay have to tell you something that will take less than 10 minutes but you know better than that to know it won't? Some things you can and should deal with once, most important things you can't.
I don't mind re-approaching things more than once because I like to organize myself when I'm at my computer. If I'm not near a computer I'll take a mental note to sort it out later. However, email is something I could improve the one check one and done factor on. Email seems to pile up rather quickly.
+Rodrigo Afonseca Computers don't actually multitask, they can only do one thing at a time, its just that they do it so fast it looks like they are doing many things at the same time, when in reallity are living things undone and jumping from one to another until all are complete. In reality, if you make a computer do several tasks at the same time, it takes it a little bit longer than if you have it do one thing until it is complete and the move on to the next , and so forth, just like humans.
Eric Z
That's a great tip! I learned it first at a time management workshop believe it or don't. Back then it was "Touch everything only once".
It pertained mostly to emails and outlook etc. But if you try to do this , I mean really try to touch everything only once - you will be amazed at the profound difference it makes!
I use this rule strictly now for emails and highly recommend it in other areas too.
lol so simple and so true! yet we still do the opposite. I'm very curious why we humans have moved away from such simple concepts and ideas? Anyone have any ideas?
Yes, this works for me also, although I also schedule times that are "me" times and people know (pretty much) not to interrupt me. I was interested as well in the first part of the post, in which Susan pulls out a paper diary. I've scoffed at paper diaries for years, but have recently been experimenting with using one again. As every other area of my life has become electronic, I'm rather enjoying the physicality of a paper diary.
+Leo Tabibzadegan- I think it's because we've evolved into a such a data-consuming culture. We live in a time where so much information is available to us, in a very immediate way. All things available, all the time. Have our priorities shifted from considering and pondering information to taking as much of it in as possible? Quantity over quality?
+emma rivera That makes sense. It's like little kids getting unlimited access to a chocolate store. They go crazy because they never had unlimited access before! I guess as time goes on the excitement wears off and we re-think the value of what we have. Very fascinating stuff! :)
+Leo Tabibzadegan and +emma rivera I wonder also if to some extent it goes back to our earliest days as a species, when we had to pay attention to small clues in order to stay alive. Now, as Emma says, there is so much coming at us, all the time. Perhaps there's a part of us that's still trying to sift for danger, it's just that there are multitudes of clues, not only a few.
+Tess Giles Marshall I would have to agree with you! I definitely think a part of us is still sifting for a danger which doesn't really exist anymore. Almost like a tinge of insecurity that sticks with us and causes us to do the darnedest things. I'm going to focus less on silly little insecurities for the next week and see what happens! =D
So simple, and yet so effective.

And yeah, like +Tess Giles Marshall I like the detail of the paper diary too. I still use one. No batteries or power supply needed, and there's something about the tactile memory of having written something down with a pen that makes me feel happy secure.
An old one is: What you can do today, don't leave for tomorrow!
I try to make like, if I can't do it right now , at least I plan when I can do it, sometimes write on calendar.
+Leo Tabibzadegan I think it is the rule: why simple when it can be complicated, than we look more important or something like that...
Great Advice Leo, 2, 5, 10 minute rule really works
Hi Leo, love leaving comments on your G+ stream. This hit home with me today as I went through emails a week old that I'd read but never took action on. Now they're a big mass of "to do's" staring me in the face. Will implement this zen habit ASAP! Thx! Caroline (Current Bootcamp student)
I've read David Allen's book and love his approach. What I find interesting is the way in which my mind fights the idea of doing things now. It gets feisty and keeps pulling me on to the next thing, yet I always end up feeling awful when I'm buried. So, I dig out and the cycle begins again. Ah, life!
I try to keep less than a dozen emails in my box.... most of the time I can do that. I also handle my USPS mail ONCE.... if it is a bill, I log it into my bill pay with a scheduled date and then file the bill in the "toss when pymt confirmed" box. If it is a penpal, I put in my book bag until Sunday (the day I do my handwritten correspondence). Junkmail is tossed in trash can outside. The other thing I have found in using the "Do it now" approach is that I use could/should a lot less. Instead of saying "I could do..." I either do it or I move on to the next thing. Keep blogging, I will keep reading!
I reactivate this mode of doing for several months now. I am happy with it. Once, I did this "do it now" practice when I was in primary school, junior high school, and high school. My mother taught me about this. "Do your homework at the same day it is assigned", she said.

It is so simple but I find it hard to back to it after several years of "do it later" mode of work.
"If you think it, do it" is a great rule to keep your brain emptier and emptier so that you have more space to spend on thinking more important things. It is a sort of precautious meditation, it works: postpones the need for meditation for me.
Leo, I actually do this. Here I thought I was breaking the cardinal rule of productivity but, I've found that I felt calmer after tackling small tasks immediately. It's good to know I'm in good company. Thanks!
I'm going to try this! I tend to be a list person most of the time, righting down lists of items that need to be done at night before the morning, and cross things off and adding this throughout the day. But this is a definite rule I have to take for such things as email, mail, phone calls, correspondence, etc. It can be hard with a 1 year old running around at home (thus why I started writing lists...distractions!), but I'm willing to give it a try!
Great post as usual Leo. It reminds me of Nike's slogan, Just Do It. There's not a simpler way to getting a task done than to just do it now.
Loved this post. Love your work. Thank you for sharing.
I like the idea of dealing with something once. Make the plan, mark it on your calendar and show up.
A little trick I used back in the day when everything was on paper was to put a little check mark in the corner of the page every time I picked it up. The less check marks, the less time was being spend on that particular piece. Not sure of the best way to replicate this in the electronic world, but it sure was helpful
As a graphic designer, the subject of organization has become more and more prominent lately. Many recommend assigning certain tasks to certain times of the day. For example, I check email first thing when I get to work and deal with what's there. The I turn it off, and do work without thinking about email. Then I check again at noon, and again half hour before quitting time. They also recommend scheduling a time to deal with phone calls. Let voice mail get it, then have an assigned time to check (and let clients know that this is your policy). It helps prevent the "reactionary" work flow you mentioned, and it's helped me free up my mind for creativity AND getting things done. But like you said, it requires a balance. If something is important, than of course, I'll break the routine and go with that flow. Thanks for all you wonderful articles!
This is the kind of advice I've been waiting for. I'm often complaining that my mind is cluttered like an office with filing cabinets lining the walls, but papers thrown all over the place waiting for organization. It's no wonder that I can't focus on anything! My mind is cluttered! Instead, I will start making a conscious decision to deal with something immediately, and then be done with it. Thank you Leo! ~Allie R
One nice side effect of this is that it can strengthen relationships: the people you're interacting with see that you are making them a priority, and it makes them feel important and valued. You're giving them time now - not putting them off until some other future unknown time.
Thank you so much for sharing this! Stumbling on this article couldn't have come at a better time! Being in college got me used to cramming for papers and exams as a way of life. I graduated just recently and am still adjusting to the real world out here so I'm kind of grateful to have someone tell me how to do it in some simple steps early on in my career. Though am still struggling with this problem (and I know I should act on this sooner), your article is a good reminder for people like me to approach every single day in this "do-it-now" attitude. But hey look! I replied your post right away when I would usually put little things like this on hold for later and forget about them...I guess that's step 1! I'll just have to keep repeating them. I'll let you know how it goes in a week's time!
Its a nice tip, but sometime we feel lazy too. Energy levels are not same all the time to do everything right now.
I have tried David Allen's GTD several times. The only thing that sticks is the "if it takes less than 2 minutes do it now" rule. Just that change has been a huge productivity benefit for me.
my boyfriend and i have been trying to tackle things that we put in the "molehill pile".... these are all the things that we put off because somehow we've told ourselves that it will take more time and mental energy than it actually does. will scheduling that dentist appointment really take an hour? highly unlikely. we've been pushing each other to tackle it now, with amazing results. less things to worry about later. :-)
I routinely handle things right away if possible. So much easier. A prob I run in to is getting pulled in a lot of different direction and taken away from a task. I need to work on focus and time blocking now.
I think this will work for certain types of tasks. But if you know what really matters to you, what's important to you, you focus on that. Some things will really slip by but it doesn't really matter. Anyway, it's still a great post.
Loved this!! Been implementing it since yesterday, and I already feel so good abt it. As an ambitious 24 yr ol' woman, I try to draft my responses/action in the most perfect manner - which well, consumes so much time sometimes, that it's perhaps not worth it most of the times! Been following this - and I can already see I'm not only more prompt, but also doing much more than what I could pack in the day!! Thank you :-)
I'm fairly firm with myself about operating this way. I'm not always at "inbox 0", but I never have more than say 5 emails in my inbox, and I do get hundreds per day, so that is decent. I've started to use GetItDone (a web app implementation of Getting Things Done) that I find is pretty ideal in terms of giving me a place to put the things I can't or don't want to actually do right away, and then having them pop back up to deal with in a structured way. But amen to maximizing the pre-filter of Do/Delegate/Delete as much as humanly possible to avoid even clogging up the system with tasks that need action down the road. Another thing that has helped me a lot is to move the "interesting ideas" completely out of the todo list - they aren't actionable yet. They stay in Evernote, and I glance through them when thinking about bigger pictures or need inspiration, but they don't hassle me when I'm doing my day-to-day tactical work.
So powerful. I lived like that for a few years and it's amazing what you can do and get done. Bouncing around is a big risk though. It's in the balance between 'do now' and fully enclosed focus that you get the results. Oddly, when that happens, the one amplifies the other, and vice versa.
Leo, Got to tell you I'm promoting your work among many, many martial arts school owners. It's as if each post you write was written with our work and lives in mind. Thanks. Tom Callos, team coach for The Ultimate Black Belt Test.
It's easier to save your time when your focus on one mission at a time. Simple, brilliant!
Good Idea. Let me try it. Thank you. 
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