It’s Easier to Keep Up Than Catch Up

Several times in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of how important it is to keep up with projects, rather than neglect them and attempt to catch up. This little piece of advice, which I heard many years ago, extends to our world both at work and at home. The question is, what constitutes the “important” items to keep up with, and what are less important? How do I (and how do you) put in systems to ensure we keep up on those important items?
For work, it’s easier to keep up with:
  1. Progress and accomplishments of your team, which will help facilitate conversations with your sponsors, customers, and leadership. Keep up by consistently pulling together Weekly Activity Reports. Gather inputs from your team members, even if you aren’t required to submit them to anyone else. If that’s the case, they don’t even need to be well-written! Just keep track of what you did, and you’ll appreciate having a record of it down the road.
  2. Your own progress and accomplishments, which help you understand progress towards your own goals. Not only does this documentation help during performance appraisal time, it helps you personally by acknowledging all you’ve accomplished. Often, just by being aware of all we’ve done in a day or a week, we can celebrate with our inner dialogue. This is so much more productive and motivating that focusing on what we didn’t accomplish. It’s very common to beat ourselves up for what we didn’t do, rather than pat ourselves on the back for what we completed. Most people are encouraged to do more with positive praise. Why not have that inner voice be your own cheering section, and diminish the inner critic? Keep up with weekly reports, journaling, checklists, or whatever works for you.
  3. Your accounting reports. Money in, expenses, contract performance periods, all of it is important to watch like a hawk, and not wait until the last minute to address. These are not the tasks to employ the saying, “if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute.” Weekly reviews help keep you in-check with your financials.
  4. Pretty much any long-term project. Set up small milestones along the way and meet those goals. Constantly review your progress. It is such a natural response to keep your head down on more immediate tasks than to take time to lift up your head and look at more long-term projects.
For other-than-work, it’s easier to keep up with:
  1. Exercise. Regardless of your fitness level, it is much easier to keep up with regular exercise than to catch up when you want to participate in a race, or when your doctor tells you to get your butt in gear. Newton’s First Law tells us an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and our bodies are no different. For energy, for aging, for mental and physical health, regular exercise has shown in study after study to reap amazing benefits. For those whose time doesn’t support heading to the gym, find little ways to get even modest exercise. What’s stopping you from holding one of your meetings on a walk? Even going into a conference room, or shutting the door to your office, and knocking out some pushups or squats can do a world of good.
  2. Your home and car maintenance. Checking our furnace and air conditioner, regular oil and filter changes on our vehicles, scrubbing our oven racks, checking our roofing, none of these tasks are in the “fun” category. What else isn’t fun: paying huge bills when something goes wrong. I recall having to pay a major car maintenance bill as a new car owner when I tried to push out the oil and filter maintenance schedule. That felt like a big chunk of my savings at the time, and was a tough lesson. While it’s these types of activities we’d like to ignore (especially since they feel like work and we want to enjoy our weekends!), setting up a maintenance schedule is key to avoiding future headaches. There are plenty of recommended home maintenance schedules online. We set up a schedule based upon our home inspection report from when we bought our home and have reminders in our family calendar. We bulk as many home maintenance activities into a weekend day as we can, so most of our weekends are free for the fun stuff.
  3. Financial planning. There are resources available all over the place to make sure you are planning well both in the short-term and long-term for your financial future. Remove the stress of money by staying on top of it!
Of course, what is important is totally dependent upon the individual. Some may find keeping their email box at zero to be of high importance. For others, it might be keeping their home free of all clutter. It could be keeping up with photo albums, or filing important documents. Find the things that can raise your blood pressure, and put together a plan to address them. Remind yourself with whatever system works for you. Is it electronic calendars, bullet journals, productivity apps? If you have kids, involve them. It teaches them what it means to “adult.”
A cycle of constantly catching up often leads to a feeling of overwhelm, stress, and sometimes, large bills. Reduce these by sitting down to identify what is important to you, and set up your own systems to keep up, rather than be caught on your heels catching up.