A Little Happier: A Mistake I’ve Made Before and That I Made Again 

Recently, I published my new book, Life in Five Senses. What a joy it was to write that book!

Life in Five Senses is my tenth book, so I had a fair idea of what to expect from the process.

Nevertheless, I made a mistake that I’ve made many times in the past—around book publication and also around other big challenges.

When something demanding looms on the calendar, I begin to tell myself, “With XYZ coming up, I can’t possibly handle anything else. This task, this chore, this problem needs to wait until I’m on the other side of this big date.”

My sister Elizabeth is a TV writer and show-runner in Hollywood, and she experiences the same thing. “When I’m shooting a pilot,” she explained, “it’s like nothing else matters. I ignore anything I possibly can.”

While I’m letting all these tasks pile up, I reassure myself, “Oh, once I’m past my major obligation, I’ll have plenty of time and energy for all this other stuff.” As Elias Canetti notes in his book The Human Province, “One lives in the naïve notion that later there will be more room than in the entire past.”

But here’s the problem: Eventually, time passes, tomorrow becomes today, and all those postponed tasks crash down on me at once.

To be sure, it’s important to spend our energy and time wisely, and during a crunch period, it’s a good idea to manage the load by rearranging certain tasks.

The problem is that once I latch on to that justification for delay, I tend to put off many items on my to-do list that, really, I could have done at the usual time.

Once my book tour was over, I realized—no surprise—that I’d burdened myself unnecessarily in the present, because I’d put off so many things.

To avoid this pitfall the next time I face a big crunch, I’ve come up with three questions to consider when I’m tempted to postpone:

  • Does this task truly demand much time or energy, or do I just dread doing it?
  • Overall, will I save time or energy by doing this task now instead of delaying?
  • If there’s a task I can’t do now (dentist check-up, a certain work meeting, etc.), can I go ahead and put it on the calendar, after my big date? This approach makes certain tasks much easier. It’s easy to schedule something, even something very unpleasant, because it’s very far off, and once something is on the calendar, I do it.

One challenge of life is figuring how to manage the everyday pressures of work and life even when we’re facing a period of unusually high demands. I hope that next time, I do a better job of it.




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