Sometimes procrastination on tasks and projects can be a good thing. Yes, you read it right. We often add things to our To Do lists and leave them there, week after week or even year after year, without considering: what if we gave ourselves permission not to do the task or finish the project?

Once a task or project is identified as something to get done and is written down, the tendency is not to question its importance or urgency. Also, if the media is telling you that life is not worth living without achieving certain things—a super tidy house, a second language, exotic family vacations—we can often take it as a directive for how we should be spending our time without consciously asking if it is something we really want or need.

After consideration, if you decide that no, learning Chinese is not really pertinent to your life right now, you can take it off your project list. If you’d still like to track “learn Chinese” or “new file system” as a potential future project, write it on what David Allen, author of the productivity guide, “Getting Things Done,” calls a “Someday/Maybe” list.

The Someday/Maybe list will keep the project on your radar, but let you off the hook—give you permission—to relax about it and focus on something else. Review your Someday/Maybe list once in a while. You might finally decide a project is “never gonna happen” and drop off even the Someday/Maybe list. Alternatively, it might become relevant and exciting again in a few months or years and get back onto your current projects list.

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Giving yourself permission not to do something has a strange way of sneakily assuring it will be accomplished—if it is indeed important to your health and happiness. In my experience, I make better choices if I give myself permission to choose, for example, cake or kale, TV or TRX. Otherwise I find myself irritably white-knuckling my way through life and binging on doughnuts and Netflix later anyway.

Last month I wrote about the miraculous garage organization that occurred at my house when the stars seemed to align and I was able to accomplish a project my husband and I had been putting off for months. I now realize that what allowed this to happen was the fact that earlier I had written in my journal, “What if I gave myself permission to NEVER clean out the garage?”

I had been so wrapped up in the fact that I, a professional organizer, did not have a perfect garage that I was too tense and mad at myself (and my hubby) to do anything about it. When I gave myself permission to forget about the garage and move the heck on, I relaxed to the point that the project lost its daunting, impossible quality and within a day or two I was out there puttering around—actually enjoying myself—and before I knew it, it was done.

Angela Hoxsey is a professional organizer living in the Napa Valley. For more about her services, go to houseinorder.com.

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