Later – The Friend of Non-Commitment

Carlos Aponte
Contributing Writer
Direct Energy/Operations

Most of us are busy. Very busy. Between work, home, and social life you have a lot to manage. If you want to accomplish everything you set out to you must prioritize. A lot has been said about time management. There’s whole sections at book stores for that. This isn’t about that. This is about a sneaky pitfall that is often overlooked.

Later. The enemy of good intention.  When you say the word later, there’s a certain level of expectation that you’ll return to that “thing” at some point in the future.  The problem is just that. Some point in the future. There is no definitive time. Nothing to measure yourself against to see if you have accomplished that “later” goal. There is absolutely nothing committing you to anything. This is a problem.

As a father I often use later as a way to divert on purpose. If you have kids, you’ll know what I mean. It usually starts with, “Daddy, can I have or can we do such and such thing?”. To which I reply, “sure, later.” Well, kids don’t forget, and they really want that thing, so they come back. For instance:

Child: “Daddy, I want ice cream, can I have some ice-cream?”

Me: “sure later”.

Well, later, sometime in the future, comes around, and they ask:

Child: “Daddy can I have that ice cream now.”

Me: “No.”

Child: “But you said I could!!”

Me: “Yes, and you can…later.”

You see, I have committed to nothing. Just that at some point in the future, they can have their ice cream.

That’s all in good fun, of course, but what about things that matter? What if you’re at work, and you really need to finish that report, and you say, “I’ll get to it later.” What if there’s a potential cultural fire brewing in your company, and you should handle it, but you really don’t want to, because you’re worried about how it will play out, so you say to yourself, “I’ll deal with it later.” What if you know you’ve wronged a loved one, and you know you should say sorry, but you say to yourself, “I’ll do it later.”

Soon, those laters stack up. They become unmanageable and come crumbling down. Never when you expect it and always when it is least convenient. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve planned your day, or how organized you are with your time, if you allow your laters to stack up, they will come back to bite you with full force. An unstoppable train of past avoidances.

Some of the worst later offenders are tech with cluttered trucks. We’ve all seen it. You open up the rear doors and brace yourself. At the ready for anything you may have to dodge as it poors out! If you’re lucky, it’s just a mess. The reality, it’s full of laters. Tech finishes a call, walks back to truck, but rather than put a warranty part back where it should go, they put it on the first available clear space by the door. If there is no clear space within range, no worries, nothing a light toss can’t fix. Their intent…”I’ll get to it later.” Their tools, same thing. Trash, who cares! There’s a spot in the back, he shoots he scores! “I’ll get to it later.”

Give it a few days and now they can’t walk in to get what they need. They know they need to clean and organize, but it’s now an unsurmountable task that will take hours. Many one to two minute tasks turn into two to three hours worth of work. All because of later. The ramifications? The techs works slower, tools are damaged, the warranty parts never get processed, customers get damaged items installed in their homes, customer’s trust wavers as they notice the dirty packages, etc.

The fallacy of intent behind laters lies in the fact that you mean well when you say later. You have good intentions. As the words come out of your mouth or the thought enters your mind we mean to return to the later at some point. You may even have a general idea of when that is. The reality, you’ll rarely go back.

The best later handlers, are those that have a plan, but know when to appropriately pause a task to avoid a later. Whenever possible, they handle tasks as they come. They do not live in the arbitrary world of later. They never say, “I’ll get to that later.” It’s always, “I’ll get back to it tomorrow at 10:00a.”

Whether it’s something you’ve put off starting, or something you put off finishing, stop using the word later. Address them, whether it be immediately, or scheduled for a future time. Your ability to do this will reduce stress, while improving success.

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