There’s an expression I use to describe the solution to a problem that I suspect is fairly widespread. I call it the Exit Programme. It covers matters as diverse as hordes of incoming mail, bills to be paid, licences to be renewed, and even the dishwasher at home.
The pace at which we live these days means we often do not give the necessary time to deal with matters as they arise, and have to face the consequences. This is sometimes confused with procrastination, but I believe they are two quite distinct malfunctions. With a common solution.
This morning my wife asked me what had happened to the two documents she had placed on the dining table some days ago. They were Warranty Cards for the Canon Camera and accessories that I bought her in Singapore. At first glance they seem to require no action, but careful inspection reveals that they need to be registered online.
Action required! So why had we not acted before? Because it was not clear, at first glance, what had to be done with them, so they were set aside for action later. Once you do that with a document, you are likely to treat it the same way every time you come across it – “Action Later”.
Procrastination is simply avoiding action, whereas Action Later is a positive decision to deal with it later. Deferred action, if you like.
I do that with credit card statements and bills to be paid. Fully intending to pay, but wanting to check them first, I might place them in an overflowing In-Tray, and forget about them until I get a reminder. That’s dangerous because these days late payments could affect your credit rating.
There are other dangers too. My wife couldn’t find her car insurance certificate, and thought she had been driving without insurance for six weeks. Her luck was in, on that occasion, because the policy had been automatically renewed when the insurance company did not hear from her. She had set aside the renewal notice for “action later”, pending alternative quotes.
What we need is an Exit Programme.
When a licence arrives, it should be filed where it can be found when needed. A bill should be paid immediately or placed where it can be actioned on the one day a week that you set aside for admin. And so on. There has to be a regular and routine procedure for dealing with demands on your attention, a procedure that you follow automatically. It will avoid bottlenecks.
Think about your dishwasher at home. If the machine is not emptied as soon as the washing is done, the kitchen will soon be overrun with dirty dishes, and you’ll have a larger job to do, probably when you are in a hurry to go out. The Exit Programme ensures that dirty dishes have somewhere to go.
Think about the time you spend looking for something that needs to be found before you can take some action or other, the number of times you have said, “I’m sure it’s here somewhere” as you rummage through piles of paper for the umpteenth time.
An Exit Programme determines the path taken by every demand on your attention, from start to satisfactory conclusion. It allows you to defer action without penalty. It saves time, it saves energy, it reduces frustration. Every home should have one.