Organizer Lucy Hedrick Counsels Procrastinators Who Want to Quit (but Haven't Gotten Around to It Yet)

updated 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Lucy Hedrick, a time-management consultant and author of Five Days to an Organized Life (Dell, $8.95), claims that anyone can get organized. She learned how "by osmosis from two organized parents" back home in Glencoe, III. For the past 13 years, Hedrick, 43, a graduate of Goucher College in Towson, Md., has given workshops for corporations and schools as well as one-shot lessons to individuals (some of whom are referred by their psychotherapists). So convincing are her teachings that in Greenwich, Conn., where she lives and works, there are hundreds of organized folk, from the First Selectman to elementary school kids, who carry the little pocket notebooks that she recommends. Hedrick talked to Louise Lague while having her hair frosted, to save time. National Procrastination Week, last March 5-11, had seemed the ideal time to run this interview but, unfortunately...we put it off.

Why do people procrastinate?

Because they don't reward themselves or the job is too big or it's not important enough to them.

What can they do about it?

If you're procrastinating because it's a thankless task, you have to promise yourself a reward to spur you through. If jobs well done were always rewarding, we would all be high from working and there would be no such thing as procrastination. If you're putting a job off because it's too big, then you have to break it down into small tasks—that is what I call eating an elephant one bite at a time. If you're procrastinating because the job's not important and getting it done will not make you feel terrific, either delegate it or else let it go. And don't be swallowed up by guilt.

Many people, especially working parents, are overwhelmed by weekend chores. How can they work some fun in?

Don't sweat the small stuff. Do a few chores or parts of chores, then delegate, or just don't do it. If you're worried about the dust, turn the lights down.

What makes your book different from other time-management books?

The old view of time-management was efficiency—people were doing 600 things a day and wanted to do 800. That's hogwash. The trend for the '90s is to get what's important done. Then have fun.

Do you recommend those five-pound, organizers?

No. I recommend two tools available in any dime store: a pocket notebook and a pocket calendar. The notebook is where you put the bites of the elephant. Everything we have to do falls into four categories—a phone call, an errand, something to write or something to do. You write page headings for those four categories, put the bites of the elephant there and cross them out as they get done.

And the calendar?

I keep one calendar, and it's always with me. In there I write external appointments—doctors, my son Tod's teacher, meetings—and internal appointments, the ones we make with ourselves, to get a job done when nobody is saying they've got to have it by Friday. When you write that job on your calendar, chances are much better you're going to accomplish it. You shouldn't try to carry your life around in your head. The reason you write things down is so you can free up your brain for more creative pursuits.

It seems odd that you recommend that people plan even "unplanned" time.

I'm afraid that's a comment on how fast we're moving as a society. To get the life you want, you have to plan it, and that includes downtime. You should draw a line through an evening, afternoon or weekend and be tenacious about it. Don't let anyone encroach on that time.

That means learning to say no. Why do we hate to say no so much?

Because we want people to like us. Some of us can't be tough about saying no and don't want to be. One way is to say, "I need 24 hours to think it over." Now you have time to think up a good excuse or get someone else to do it.

It often seems easier to put off "internal appointments" than agreements made with others. Why is that?

We're more productive when we meet the demands of others we're responsible to. So we need to set up our own accountability system. Schedule a task for yourself and put a deadline on your calendar for Monday. Then ask a friend to call you Tuesday and make sure you did it.

This implies a lot of self-esteem.

This book is about self-esteem. If you're only spending time on other people's demands, you're going to be unhappy, bitter and resentful. But if you're spending at least some time on what matters to you, you're more satisfied and happy.

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