Do any of the following scenarios feel familiar?
Scenario #1: Paper
You’ve just got the mail and are staring at the latest donation request. You start to feel decision-paralysis creeping in. Should you keep it? Send them money now? Toss it and feel guilty?
Suddenly, your attention is caught by a bill that needs to be paid. You know right where this bill goes so you set down the donation request on the table.
Boom: your latest paper pile forms.
Scenario #2: Email
You receive an email from a local art studio letting you know about their new pottery classes. You’ve always wanted to take one but aren’t sure if you’ve really got the time. But if you don’t schedule this now how you will possibly remember to do it in the future?
As you mull over the options your attention is grabbed by an email from a friend. You “set aside” the decision about pottery classes or leave the email open so you are reminded to come back to it.
Boom: Another email loop is left unfinished.
Scenario #3: Tasks
You finish reading a book that your friend would love to read. It is so special that you decide to mail her a copy. You make a note on your to-do list to get this done right away. Three weeks go by and you are still guiltily transferring this task to the next day’s to do list vowing that it really will get done tomorrow.
Boom: your to-do list has become a nagging reminder list.
Scenario #4: Stuff
“Wow! Thanks Aunt Susie for this neat thingamajig! I can’t wait to use it…never.”
We often receive stuff from other people. Stuff we didn’t ask for. It might be nice, it might be thoughtful and yet if you don’t have an immediate use for something it stays in your office, car, or that corner in the dining room. It collects dust. It annoys you until it fades into the background you don’t see it anymore.
Boom: your new pile of clutter is born.
As veteran professional organizer, Barbara Hemphill famously said decades ago, “Clutter is unmade decisions.”
What I am attempting to illustrate in these scenarios is just how easy it is not to make a decision in the moment – which is of course is a decision. But it is a passive/avoidant strategy that gnaws at us and fills us with frustration and anxiety. We know we haven’t fully “dealt” with something and are just delaying a decision.
There is Another Way
Here is where it gets interesting.
What if I told you that this habitual non-decision decision was really a good strategy?
What if I told you there was only one thing about it that needed to change in order for it to release your anxiety and frustration?
It is this: Intentionally Ripening.
Often, when we are presented with a decision we really can’t/don’t want to/don’t have enough information to make in the moment. This is normal. Often there needs to be time to allow a decision to “ripen”. This is time between the arrival of a new decision and the decision itself when information is gathered, intuition is checked, and priorities are prioritized.
Often this “ripening” is happening anyway. What I am suggesting is that you make this “ripening” stage intentional.
So often you absent-mindedly set down a paper, email, gift from your co-worker with the intention of going back to it soon. And when we don’t this non-decision decision can leave behind a nasty residue of low-grade anxiety.
But if you intentionally opted to delay the decision – to allow space for it to ripen – you will feel relief. You will know that you will come back around to it and make the decision much more easily at a later date.
Catching this habitual “putting off pattern” is an act of mindfulness.
When you catch the setting down of paper, the delayed decision in the moment, the procrastination of a task – you have given yourself a choice.
Here is how this might work:
- You create a pile of paper decisions you want to make later – don’t mix these with items you’ve already made decisions on
- You make a list of things you need to remember (reminders) but don’t have the capacity to think through now – don’t mix these with actual to-do’s
- You designate a ripening drawer, box, email folder, etc. to store items you just aren’t sure what do about yet – keep it sacred to this category
Some of you – in order to really feel the relief – will also need a reminder system (your calendar, phone, etc.) to review these ripening piles. Others will trust that these decisions will surface again when they need to. Either way is right.
The decision is up to you.