Today I Overcame One of My Annoying Habits. Here’s How.

One of my worst habits — or, I should say, one of my most self-annoying habits — is that I hate to make appointments.

I dislike using the phone. I dislike adding commitments to my calendar. I dislike getting my haircut or my teeth cleaned. Etc. So I find it very, very difficult to make myself pick up the phone and call to make appointments.

I know this perfectly well about myself. So while I was on vacation in Kansas City last week, I vowed that I would use the Strategies of Monitoring, Scheduling, and Clarity to make a bunch of necessary appointments.

In my book Better Than Before, I describe how I use  “Power Hour.Each weekend, I make a list of chores that I’ve been putting off, and I dedicate an hour to completing them — but Power Hour doesn’t work for appointments, because most places are only open during the week.

So I used a special installment of my weekly “Power Hour” to get myself to tackle this dreaded task. At 6:30 a.m. this morning, I made a list of all the appointments I needed to make. And at 10:00 a.m., when I figured that everyplace would be open, I called.

Within the hour, I made appointments to:

— get nasal flu vaccines for my daughters and me (I’ve tried to do this before, but they kept running out)

— get my hair cut

–get a dentist appointment

— get an eye doctor’s appointment for my daughter (this required two calls, and I was very impressed with myself that I made the two calls, back to back)

–get an annual check-up for my daughter

Well, I must say, this list doesn’t look terribly impressive, now that I type it up, but it took every ounce of my strength and habit-formation knowledge to do it.

Phew! Funnily enough, I dread making the appointments more than keeping them — even something like going to the dentist.

Those little tasks, left undone, drain my energy — and even though I know that, still I delay.

It does come in handy that I wrote a whole book, Better Than Before, that covers how to form habits, how to fight procrastination, how to adjust for myself and my quirks, etc. But still: physician, heal thyself. Even if I know what to do, I still have to do it.

How about you? Do you struggle to complete some simple, ordinary task that other people seem to find easy?


  • Ash101

    I too hate making appointments – a flaw which has sometimes lead to YEARS between dentist appointments. I recently realized that the biggest reason I don’t like making them is because I don’t like planning for them. When is a convienent time? etc. I also realized that even though I think of “current me” as too busy for appointments, “future me” always has enough time.

    Solution? Make my appointments at least a month out. That way, it’s a “future me” issue, and I don’t have to worry about cramming it in this week.

    Note: this often means that an appointment I really should go to now I instead go to in five weeks, but still, that’s much better than never!

  • pine tree

    My dentist’s office staff always makes the next cleaning appointment as you leave , after you have finished the current cleaning. Simple way to eliminate the problem !

    • Mimi Gregor

      So does mine. This seems to be a good example of the strategy of convenience, does it not?

    • Jane Savage

      I just got a text from my dentist, so that was nice! Still have to call and make an appointment though…lol

  • Mimi Gregor

    I can’t speak for appointments that you make only once or twice a year, but I made all of my haircut appointments for all of 2016 on my last haircut appointment of 2015. Since it’s usually difficult to get a time with my stylist that is convenient for me at the last minute, and I’ve found that 8 weeks is the optimum time between haircuts for me, it seemed a no-brainer to just do it all in one fell swoop. Now I don’t have to do that again until next December.

    • gretchenrubin

      My mother keeps telling me to do this!

  • DeeDee

    Whenever I can, I make my next appointment while I’m still at my last appointment. What I mean is, when I’m checking out at the end of a dentist appointment, I make the next appointment for six months in the future. When I pay for my haircut, I make my next appointment for eight weeks out. (I know that doesn’t work if your doctor’s office only schedules two or three months into the future. Those offices usually send out time-to-make-an-appointment reminder cards, and I’ve made it a HABIT to call immediately. Even if it’s after hours and I get voicemail, THEY call ME back the next day.)

    I used to think I couldn’t make an appointment so far in advance because I really didn’t know what would be happening by then, if the appointment time would still work. But it’s amazing how few times in the years I’ve been doing this I’ve had to reschedule as the appointment approaches. It helps if you are consistent about your appointment times — always schedule your dentist appointments for Tuesdays at 8:00am, your haircut for Wednesdays at 5:30pm, for instance. Want to treat yourself with a massage, manicure or pedicure once a month but you never get around to it? Make a year’s worth of appointments and you’ll never miss!

    • Judy

      I usually do this with my dental appointments, because if I don’t, I have to wait a long time when I finally remember to schedule.
      This might be a take on Gretchen’s “Power Hour”, but I find it easier, in general, to make phone calls in a chunk of time, and if I have to be put on hold, I try to multi-task, with some type of mindless activity, usually on the computer.
      I like ZocDoc too. I wish more appointments could be made online.

  • Jane Savage

    It’s funny how the phone calls do seem annoying yet after they are done, you feel a complete sense of accomplishment. I find I do most of my calls and such like you did on Mondays when I feel fresh. Interesting…..loving your book and getting so much out of it. It’s a wonderful read and can’t wait to share it with my clients. Be well!

  • Kelly

    I do what I hate FIRST. 🙂 I hate things hanging over my head, so I love to feel free of it all. I always make a plan in my head every night, for the next day. All the things I need and want to do. I do the things I HATE first. (Like you, I hate making appts. and I hate errands) but I do those things FIRST, to get them out of the way, and free my mind. I do things like oil changes, tire rotations, phone calls that I dread, etc. I always feel so much better for the rest of the day when those dreaded items are DONE.

    • Vikki

      I too get the things I hate done first. The freedom feeling that follows is worth the effort!

  • Janette

    I realized when reading Better then Before that we share a distaste for making phone calls. I am also an upholder and wondered at the time if it is a characteristic particular to that tendency. I do think for myself this is the root of the problem in not making appointments. Like yourself I have to make a concerted effort to do so. I would love to have some insight into why this is so distasteful for me.

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting idea! I wonder what about Upholderness would make phone calls painful.
      Any other Upholders want to weigh in?

      • SallyVee

        I’m an Obliger/Rebel and I also hate hate hate picking up the phone and making appointments. My husband is a Questioner and he is worse than I am about that kind of stuff. I’ve only learned to get over it because I have worked jobs for a better part of a decade that require me to talk to strangers on the phone, but I would still much rather not have to talk on the phone at all.

        • Liz

          I am a questioner/rebel and spend most of my work day on the phone. I don’t seem to mind this but it depends on the reason for the call. If I want something, I find it easier. When my customer wants something, the call is more difficult to make. I don’t mind making appointments because I’m doing something for me so it must be my ego that’s getting fed which makes it easier to do. One of my worst qualities is that of procrastination; so that seems to me to be the real answer as to why I am late in making appointments.

      • Jill

        Rebel, and I truly loathe making phone calls. Was facinated it is an issue for an Upholder too…

  • Stacey Voigt

    I have a hard time making phone calls in general; and appointment-setting calls can definitely be a hold-up. How gratifying to realize I’m not the only one who struggles with this “trivial” obstacle! I like your strategy and will try it myself next time.

  • Abby

    Oh yes, how I know that feeling, so much so, that my favorite quote for a long time was William James’ ‘Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.’ I love your idea of Power Hour, I’m going to copy it. I’ll review and compile a list of unfinished business on Sunday afternoons, and devote an hour on Monday morning to tackling at least one one item on Monday morning. I know the first item is going to be about sorting photos! Thank you.

  • mom2luke

    The flu mist is something I wish you left off your list. You eat healthy and exercise and get good sleep. The flu vaccines have risks and could do more harm than good. Make absolute sure you get the Mercury-free ones if you still feel you need them. Which you don’t. And promise me you will read the insert before you give to your daughters. Seriously. The risks to not out weigh the benefits for most of us. I’m guessing your questioner husband opts out?

    • miccullen

      “Questioning” is not the same as “ignoring all the good evidence #becausealiens.”

      • mom2luke

        Nor is “ignoring all the bad evidence.” #becausesideeffects.

        • miccullen

          Ah yes, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, medical geniuses. I can see why people align themselves with them.

  • Rebecca Van Hout

    I’ve had this same issue my whole life! I dread using the phone. Funny that my job is about 50% on the phone and that has helped me de-sensitize myself to it so that it is no longer such a difficult thing for me. I still have to push myself to call for an apt but I do it!

  • grace b

    Gretchen, I totally applaud you! But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the website ZocDoc — it’s how I make all of my appointments and there is zero need for a phone. You just search for your doctor or by any other medical person you want to book with and your insurance and they show all of the available appointments! It’s pretty awesome. So definitely a quicker way to make appointments if you need it!

  • miccullen

    TBH, I’m much more likely to go to the doctor now I can make the appointment online. Makes very little sense, but there you have it.

  • Molly

    Right before I got to the end, I was thinking, isn’t it funny how it is easier to keep an appointment than to arrange it? Ha–you said it!! I am so the same way and thought I was the only one.

  • annatekla

    I listen to your podcast regularly and appreciate the well curated topics and thoughtful discussions. Thank you!

    Several episodes back you discussed solitude. I don’t have a specific question, but rather a request that you consider delving into this topic further.

    Like Gretchen, I enjoy solitude. However, I think solitude is one of those subjects that isn’t really talked about or accepted, at least in North American culture. Unless one is a member of a religious order, than it is ok.

    In my case, I have a busy professional career in a fairly fast paced environment with a lot of social interaction. I have contact with friends and family and considering everything feel pretty well balanced. But what really grounds me is making art and the meditative state this gives me. And for that I need solitude. I actually don’t think this is that uncommon but in my experience is something we tend not to admit or discuss openly. The other thing I’ve noticed is that my grandmother and father are the same way (both are artists). Not sure if this orientation is learned or genetic. The bottom line is that in terms of happiness solitude is an essential ingredient for me. I’m wondering if it is a topic others could relate to and enjoy also.

    • Gillian

      Is this related to introvert vs. extrovert? If so, you might find Susan Cain’s book “Quiet! The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” interesting.

    • may

      I tend to agree. I am sort of seen as a loner and have even been shamed for it. I enjoy spending time by myself to submerge myself into a good book, or spend time solving ken ken, doing a drawing. My mother is an artist, my siblings and I got it from her. I stopped drawing since in high school then felt a need to draw about 2 years ago. Found myself at a craft store, where I bought a pencil and a sketch notepad. out of nowhere, I began drawing. My understanding is it is genetic. I agree too that solitude can be a factor in our happiness. I am an introvert as a result enjoy my solitude time.

  • Ginger Horton

    I too, loathe making phone calls. I like several of these suggestions (like making a next appointment at the previous appointment).

    I JUST realized something last week that made me feel rather silly. Some phone calls, I can just avoid by using the mail. I know it’s old fashioned, and I know it costs me the price of a stamp, but certain things I can send in via mail rather than calling. I’ll procrastinate to the point of dread on making a call, rather than just popping a note replying right then and having it off with.

    For example, the other day my car insurance company required proof of my new address. Then I realized, for some of these, it’s easier on me, clearer to them, and actually more official, to mail in a short explanatory note.

    It doesn’t work for all correspondence, but for those nagging tasks I can use mail for, it suits my temperament so much better.