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  • Writer's pictureLaura Burke - Coach

Now and Later

Do you like Now and Later candies? That super chewy fruity candy that lasts so long you can enjoy it now… and later? (Hence… the name…)


Now AND later? That’s great for candy! That’s great for really anything we enjoy. But when it comes to goals, projects, and tasks … not so much. Doing them efficiently, in discreet time increments, and at the most appropriate time is what’s great when it comes to tasks or projects or work in general.


But how can you prioritize what to do when? There are lots of ideas that pop up, new demands for your attention and time around each corner, in each new hour.


There are so many tools and processes out there, with varying philosophies. And the absolute best one… is the one that works for you. (If you don’t have one that works… or don’t have one at all… let’s talk!) But let’s face it, a lot of the time the decision needs to be made in the moment. It doesn’t require an entire planning system, it just needs a quick triage. That’s what my “Now, Next, Later” concept is all about and I think you’ll find it simple & helpful!


Now, Next, Later

I like 3’s. If you’ve been following my blogs you know this by now. Three finds a sweet spot in the spectrum between simple & choice. In the spectrum of how much thought something requires. Like, I don’t want everything dictated to me, but I don’t want to design every detail of every thing… (that would be exhausting). It’s an odd number, and a prime number. I like both for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Three is the fewest number of legs that can support a surface like a chair or table independently. I like 3 for lots of reasons but also for creating buckets. Two buckets is often not enough because too many things kinda could go in either or both… too many buckets causes the same problem. Three is usually just right.


Now: Things that go in the Now bucket are those you want to do… basically… now. In the present moment. Now items check a box of being important or being urgent. Or both. Now items get detailed out to an executable level: they get broken down into tasks if necessary, they get assigned timing of when they’ll get done. Now items bump other things you may have been planning to do.


Next: Things that go in the Next bucket are those you really want to do soon… but it doesn’t have to be this moment, doesn’t have to be today. Or maybe it doesn’t have to be you (and you want to buy some time to figure out who you’d rather delegate to, or hire). Next items are not urgent, and if you’re honest about how much is on your plate today… then you will admit everything doesn’t fit there so this is the Next bucket.


Later: Everything else goes in the Later bucket. Well… not necessarily everything. It is good to sometimes say “that’s a great idea… just not for me.” Or “just not at this time.” Putting something in your Later bucket gives you time to more thoroughly decide whether it should be in any of your buckets. Things that naturally fall to this Later bucket are not urgent, and you’re not sure you are ready to commit to putting them in your Next bucket.


Use this loosely…

The idea here is to do something quick and simple to free up mental space.


This is not a full blown planning system. Could you use this as a framework, and apply planning to more precise degrees in the Now bucket items? And evaluate the buckets holistically from time to time? Sure… but that’s not the point.


The point is to add a simple framing tool to your toolbelt so that as things pop into your mind, you can easily and quickly triage them properly, i.e. assign them a bucket. Things will pop into your mind that are new, or that are old. I have nothing against things that are blue but caution about accepting anything that is ‘borrowed’ (in other words, don’t take on things from someone else blindly…). Sorry, I think I butchered the wedding “old, new, borrowed, blue” beyond recognition.


The power of this simple tool is that it allows focus, and it allows you to give yourself grace. It actively reinforces that you don’t have to do everything now. The feeling that everything needs to be done now can be paralyzing, debilitating. And it can mean the things that are truly important, meaningful or urgent risk not getting done.


Now items – simply get done. Anything with a consequential deadline goes to the top of the list. A consequential deadline is when something you want to avoid happens at a particular time if something else is not done. Now items can (and should!) include self-care. If you ever feel like “Geesh… I’m frazzled…” perhaps your most important thing to do right now is take a time out. Maybe you go outside for 5 minutes and listen to some birds. Maybe you do a downward dog (inversion gets blood to your brain!). Maybe you make a cup of tea and just sit. Then you can tackle a more ‘concrete’ Now item!


Next items – feel free to think about them, talk about them, capture ideas… but don’t feel guilt or angst that you are not acting on them right now. Take comfort and even have anticipation for the things in your Next bucket. They are acknowledged as important or meaningful, they’re on deck or in the hole. (For those that don’t speak baseball… ‘in the hole’ means the batter after the batter that’s up next or 'on deck.') But they’re not overcrowding your ‘to do’ list and creating feelings of overwhelm or frustration.


It is important to communicate appropriately with anyone that may be expecting or relying on you to do something in your Next bucket. If you have an idea when you might get to it, feel free to share. But it’s quite possible (and quite OK) if all you can say is that you’re aware and intend to do it, you just can’t commit to when yet. [potential bonus? Don’t be surprised if some of these things start getting done by other people before you get to them… ]


Later items – similar to Next items, there’s no reason to limit your imagination. There is even more importance to communicate with anyone impacted by things in your Later bucket. Like “I really do want to volunteer to (do that thing…) but right now I’m just not sure when I’ll be available to sign up.” Avoid making commitments to when you will be able to get to something in your Later bucket. This isn’t even in your queue (your Next bucket).


Later items are important in your relationship with yourself. When you put something in the Later bucket, make a pact with yourself that you will stop beating yourself up over not doing it. Think of this bucket as your permission to confidently say “Oh that’s actually in my “Later” bucket” when asked by a friend if you’ve ‘finished that thing’ you were talking about the last time you saw her, 6 months ago. You don’t have to slump, feel defeated or frustrated or embarrassed. You can stand tall and content in your decision.


Within a day, this can be used as follows: Do a quick scan and identify anything that could be a Later. That means – nothing breaks if it doesn’t get done today. Put it in parenthesis, or italics, or put it at the bottom of the list. You may have to do this hypothetically or metaphorically (if you don’t have a physical list)… but even that works! Then only look for what to do NOW; and everything else is Next, until you finish the current activity. There are a couple of ways I like to determine what to do Now (which I’ll share in a future blog, stay tuned!). The simplest & quickest way to get started… is to just trust your gut.


I hope this quick & simple tool helps you navigate those moments or days when a ‘process overload’ feeling hits. The voice in your head is screaming, crying “There is too much to do and it all needs to be done by me. Now!!” Nope. It doesn’t all need to get done. It definitely doesn’t all need to get done now. And it most certainly doesn’t need to all get done by you. Stop. Breathe. And choose your Now.




I would love to help you find ways to create beautiful, dynamic balance in your life! Contact me to learn about working together…

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