If Now Isn’t a Good Time, Never Might Be Better

Deferring work gives you time to reconsider it.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

I have thousands of unread articles in Pocket. According to ReadKit, it’s 2,264. I doubt I’m going to read them all.

When I have time, I’ll sit down and read through articles. I’ll share the best with others who might find them interesting. Some are deep reads that make me think. Some are light reads that I just skim.

Some of the articles, I delete without reading. At some point, I thought I wanted to read it. Or might want to read it. Maybe. Possibly.

This probably feels familiar to you. If you use a similar workflow for reading the news, checking email, or anything else, you shouldn’t feel guilty about dropping work you deferred until later. It may have already served its purpose.

Consider this workflow for keeping up on the news:

  1. Skim the headlines in your RSS reader.
  2. If an article grabs your attention, read it.
  3. If an article is maybe interesting, add it to Pocket.
  4. If it’s not that interesting, just mark it as read.
  5. Repeat as time allows.

This acknowledges that not all articles are of equal weight. Some are more interesting than others. Some take more time to process than others. Some can be skipped without anything more than the headline.

(It’s the same workflow for triaging your email, but it’s easier to see with RSS feeds. For some reason, we assume that every email we receive must be important and worth our time now.)

So what happens? The articles that you’re excited to read, you read. You get it done. It could be something particularly interesting or relevant, or you just want to see what everyone’s been talking about.

These are the things that are a strong YES!. You want to do them. (Whether you should is another question.)

Then there’s the strong NO! If you can tell up front that you’re not interested, drop the task right there. Never make the commitment. Move on.

And then there are the maybes in the middle. Those are tougher to handle. We could strictly say NO! to anything that isn’t a YES!, and there’s a strong argument for that. But for some things—news articles more than people—it’s okay to put the decision off. Trying to force a decision at the wrong time will not only slow you down, but usually result in the wrong decision.

Deferring work until later helps you keep your focus where it needs to be right now. We can’t always control the inputs—we’re easily distracted, and it may be our job to be interrupted. The newest request on our time to come in (the Urgent) doesn’t get to direct our attention. Stay focused on what’s Important.

Triaging work is identifying and classifying work. You don’t have to do it now. (If it takes less than two minutes, you might want to just knock it out.) Otherwise, save it for later (or forget about it completely). Write it down. Don’t worry about missing out on the newest thing. That new article or opportunity might be interesting, let’s call it an 8 out of 10. If you’re already spending your time on 9s and 10s, you’ve got something better.

Question: What are you putting off, perhaps indefinitely? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.