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10 Ideas to Make Procrastination Work for You

A useful list of things to do while avoiding what you should be doing

Just because you don’t want to do what you meant to do, should do and will do eventually doesn’t mean the day is wasted. While you avoid the necessary chore by procrastinating, take on a smaller task that doesn’t require as much concentration.

Try these 10 ways to avoid an appointed task (and read to the end for a bonus idea):

1. Clean out the linen closet

Among the many mismatched, well-used towels, washcloths and bathmats, you may find that pink inflatable neck pillow you meant to use in the tub, a wooden candleholder your 40-year-old son made when he was in junior high shop class and a selection of soap dishes that don’t fit on your sink. (I did.)

A great reward for completing this task is new towels, washcloths and bathmats. Donate your old ones to a veterinarian’s office or animal shelter. The people there will be grateful and you will marvel at the plush feel of your new linens.

And if you happen to find new sheets still in the original package, get them into the laundry and on the bed!

2. Dispose of old heating pads and electric blankets

While you work on task No. 1, inspect stored heating pads, electric blankets and electric mattress pads. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends discarding any such products with frayed wires or cracks or tears in the coverings, which can cause fires.

As we grow older, so does the salad dressing on the shelf at the back of the fridge.

Though newer electric blankets will shut off to prevent overheating or catching fire, blankets manufactured before 2001 don’t have that feature. In Great Britain alone, over 5,000 fires per year are caused by faulty electric blankets, most of them at least 10 years old, according to the UK Fire Service.

3. Clean out a desk drawer

Has your desk drawer been taken over by hand lotion, foot lotion, cuticle oil and cough drops? Mine was, and languishing in the dark at the back of the drawer was a tiny plastic statue of Glinda the Good Witch. That’s no way to treat her!

Glinda now shares space on the desk with my miniature Sumo wrestler and a fearsome plastic dragon. The lotions, oils and cough drops have new homes in the linen closet with my skincare and health care products-in-waiting. And the desk drawer now holds exactly what you would expect. I may even staple something soon.

4. Shred old credit card receipts

Some people do this monthly, some quarterly, some annually and some — well, some wait a decade or even longer, but those are people with plenty of storage space.

First, make sure charges are correct on the credit card statement. Then set aside receipts you need for your taxes and receipts for home improvements and major purchases in case of future loss.

And if the return period has not expired on those shoes that are too white or pants that are too tight, put them in the car with the receipt, ready to go back to the store. Then feed all other statements and receipts to a hungry crosshatch shredder.

5. Clean out the medicine cabinet

The Food and Drug Association has guidelines for disposing of expired, unused or unwanted medications to help keep people or animals from accidentally ingesting the pills.

You also can ask your pharmacist about prescription drug take-back events in your community or call 800-882-9539 to find an authorized medication collector. If you still come up empty, before you flush the pills or capsules, consult the FDA chart about which drugs can be disposed of that way.

Another option is to mix the medications (don’t crush any pills) with used coffee grounds, dirt or cat litter, place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag and put it in the trash, as long as no local or state ordinances forbid it.

6. Rearrange the kitchen cabinets

A convenient spot for glasses is in a cabinet right over or adjacent to the sink. If you use coffee mugs in your eclectic collection more often than you use the cups that match your china, place the mugs within easy reach. Depending on your relationship to the grape, keep wine glasses right at hand or tucked away to wait until company arrives.

Consider buying inexpensive, plastic-coated racks that store plates vertically, which saves space and makes pulling out plates easy. Determine just how many holiday platters and salsa bowls you really need, and place those you keep on a high shelf. Unless, of course, every day is a party at your place.

7. Clean out the junk drawer

Kitchen drawers are at a premium in my small apartment in San Francisco — I have exactly two. What to do with that stuff that is so hard to categorize but clearly belongs heaped in a traditional junk drawer?

I bought a sturdy basket, declared it the official junk basket and put it on a shelf on a wicker étagère against one kitchen wall.

What’s in it? Chip clips, energy bars, a flashlight with fresh batteries, transparent nylon thread, a pretty tea cozy that cradles my favorite screwdriver, a spare bulb for the nightlight, packaging tape, a candy bar for a bad day, outlet protectors and a small heart-shaped bowl for odds and ends.

8. Discard expired condiments and leftovers

As we grow older, so does the salad dressing on the shelf at the back of the fridge. Oil-based dressings can be safely disposed of in non-recyclable milk cartons or empty frozen-juice containers. If the mustard, ketchup or seafood sauce looks funny, smells funny or you can’t remember when you bought it, send it down the disposal.

You’ll know when refrigerated leftovers have gone bad, but what about frozen food? The Department of Agriculture notes that frozen foods remain safe to eat indefinitely, but lose flavor over time. (For details, see here.)

9. Clean out the spice rack

Quick, how old is that jar of chili powder in your spice rack or drawer? Spices lose potency over time, but at different rates. Whole spices are good for up to two years but ground spices last only about a year. And how you store them matters, too.

Read all about it on a computer near you at a site sponsored by a spice manufacturer. Then line up all your spices, get out a magnifying glass (these expiration dates are tiny!) and sort which can stay and which need to be replaced.

A dear friend who loved to cook often amused himself by alphabetizing my spices, but you can skip that step.

10. Recycle expired catalogs

Are spring and summer catalogs from your favorite merchants cluttering up your desk or bedside stand? You know the mailing labels for holiday catalogs are being processed now and will arrive at your house soon. Recycle the old to make room for the new.

Or, save trees by signing up for only the mail you want at Catalog Choice or the Direct Marketing Association. Another option is to call the catalog companies individually and ask nicely that your name and address be removed from the company’s mailing list and also from any list they rent or sell.

One Thing More

By the time you finish just one of the tasks outlined here, you may have renewed energy for working on the job you were busy avoiding. Before you do, you may want to heed the words of Chris Simpkin, 79, of St. Louis.

“When I quit working and making money, I felt unproductive. Now my goal is to do at least one thing each day for someone  — send a card, write a note, make a phone call, pray for those with special requests, listen to a family member or make someone laugh,” Simpkin says.

That’s my new definition of “productive!”

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