“You know who I think could handle a problem like that? Future Ted.” – Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother
Do you recognize the quote from above? I bet many of you will. It is a rather well-known line from the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” where the main character Ted Mosby would consciously push a difficult problem or task off to another day, citing that the future version of himself would be better equipped to handle the problem or task.
When I first heard this line, I thought it was hilarious! I’m sure many found it funny because we can all relate to pushing off problems and tasks to another day. I know I have done it constantly throughout my life. This section is about using a similar mental approach that Ted Mosby used, but instead of wanting to give our future selves more work by pushing problems off to the future, we instead want to give our future selves less work.
LESS WORK!? What a novel concept! I would have loved if my past-self had made the decision to give me less work several years ago when I still continually strived to push off tasks and responsibility. If my past-self had the mindset that he wouldn’t want to give me more work, I bet I would have been quite productive.
I hope you’re still following me because this mental trick has saved my future-self many hours of work. In fact, when I sat down to write this very chapter, I almost pushed it off until later today. I know, by looking at my calendar, that I do NOT have time for more work later on today. I almost pushed off the work. I almost gave myself more work to do. Have you ever had a boss at work that would regularly give you more work than you could handle? I was almost that boss! To MYSELF!
We all need to treat ourselves better.
Let me give you an example, a horrifying example. Let’s say that you’re trying to learn a new skill. You start learning this skill for one hour a day every morning each day of the week (wow, you’re ambitious). You spend the first two weeks learning this skill and don’t miss a single day. You’re on a roll! Now, on the 15th day, you wake up late and can’t spend that hour on learning this skill. You think,”no big deal, it’s just the one day. I can get back on it tomorrow.” This is true, you can get back at it tomorrow. But now you’ve given your future self an extra hour of work. This does not seem like much, and at this point, it isn’t.
I’ve said in a past blog post that consistency is THE most important part of developing a habit and mastering anything. You’ve not only given yourself more work to do in the future; you’ve now stopped being consistent. Chances are, the next morning you get right back to it, and continue you on your journey of learning this new skill. Missing one day out of 15 days is not much of a momentum loss. We’re all human, though, and we know now that studies have shown that most people give up a new habit after two weeks. Let’s say, for example, that you miss three days in a row. Now you’ve given your future self three more hours of work, your brain has noticed a trend for not practicing this skill, and the neural pathways of that habit will start to die as other pathways are formed. Your momentum has stalled, and it will now take you a LOT more willpower to get back on track.
Productivity is not a complicated subject. Often it comes down to a simple mental exercise. To do the work now, or to do the work later. If this is work that you must get done, then do the damn work NOW, because your future-self has enough crap to worry about! Don’t give him or her more to do. Don’t be like Ted Mosby; It took him ten seasons to finally meet the woman the ENTIRE show was about. In fact, one could argue that if he didn’t give future Ted all that extra work, he might have noticed that he met the real love of his life in the first freaking episode.
Love your future self. Don’t be like Ted.
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