“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” ~Spanish Proverb
I am deadline-oriented.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I have burned the midnight oil many a time to finish projects that could have easily been done days, if not weeks, before they were due. I pulled more than a few all-nighters during my college years. Sometimes it paid off. Sometimes I missed the deadline.
I remember being in a speech class and the professor returning a script with a big, red “D” scrawled across it. As he returned it, he said, “It’s an A+ speech all the way, but you turned it in three days late. I had no other choice but to mark it down.” I rationalized that one by saying that it wouldn’t have been an “A” speech three days earlier (true—it hadn’t been written yet).
That wasn’t the only time procrastination cost me. I have a number of similar stories littering my academic career.
I married before I finished college. My husband claims that he always knew when I had a big paper to write because he would come home from work to an immaculate house. I’d like to think that’s not so much procrastination as my writer’s neurosis of not being able to write unless my desk is clean (it’s true—I HATE having a messy desk).
Thankfully, it took only one or two such incidents after I started my professional career to break me of the habit of procrastination—mostly.
I confess, it is still something I sometimes struggle with, mostly when I am feeling overwhelmed or inadequate to the task at hand. Or when it’s a job I just hate. Filling out tax forms engenders all kinds of procrastination in me, but since failing to complete and submit them on time comes with a financial penalty, it’s a powerful incentive.
So, how do I deal with my tendency to procrastinate? I have developed a few strategies over the years. Hopefully, some of them will work for you, too.
- Do it first thing in the morning
Mark Twain is reported to have said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” If that task is showing up on your to-do list every day, make it the first thing on your list and get it out of the way. Sometimes the dread of a task makes it seem worse than it really is. Getting it over with first thing in the morning will free up both your time and your mind for other things.
- Get an accountability partner
Find someone who is willing to hold your feet to the fire and keep you on task until it’s done. Sometimes all it takes to end the procrastination is knowing that you have to keep telling that other person you aren’t done yet. After a while, you just feel kind of silly, don’t you?
- Be prepared ahead of time
If you know it’s coming, gather everything you think you will need as soon as you know. Having it all there and ready makes the project a little less overwhelming and will make you less likely to be late or miss a critical deadline that could cost you both money and reputation.
- Break down an overwhelming task into smaller, more manageable ones
Does it just feel like it’s too much? Look at the task and see if you can’t divide it up into smaller, manageaable pieces. A bunch of little tasks often seems simpler than one big one. Plus, if it doesn’t have to be done all at once those little tasks can be spread out over a series of days.
If you are procrastinating something because you either don’t feel like you have time or just hate to do it, find a way to delegate it to someone else. If it’s a school project or a medical procedure, you’re stuck, but if it’s something else, there is almost always a way to delegate or outsource and have someone else do the deed.
- Re-think the task
Is this something you really need to do? If you’ve put it off this long, how important is it really? Re-evaluate whether it is something you need to do at all. Sometimes we procrastinate things because they aren’t all that important to us. Check your motivation and your need to get this done. If they aren’t there, perhaps you should just scratch it off the list and move on with your life.
- Avoid Distractions
Do you find yourself checking your email, visiting Facebook, doing the laundry, scrubbing the toilet or just about any other activity but what you need to do? Eliminate the distractions. Shut off the internet, send the phone to voicemail or go to the library and get rid of the things that distract you. Some of my writer friends will even check into a hotel for a few days so they work without any interruptions to meet a deadline or finish a project. Rid yourself of the reasons NOT to get it done.
- Reward yourself
Give yourself some incentive to get the job done. Reward yourself with something you really enjoy—and then stick to the deal. As soon as you’re done, you can go get that massage or have that cheesecake—or that afternoon off.
- Be realistic
Are you putting off this project because you feel overwhelmed or inadequate to the task? Step back and evaluate those feelings. Are they valid? If it really isn’t something you can do yourself then get the help you need. Is it too big for the time frame or for just one person? If the answer is yes, then adjust the time frame and your resources accordingly and relieve that stress.
- Give yourself a deadline
This one works for me. As I said before, I am deadline oriented. Whether the deadline is set by me or by someone else, knowing I have a drop-dead date to get a project finished means it will be done by then.
- Suck it up and get it over with
Most often, the best way around a problem is right through it. Just suck it up and get it done and remind yourself that the sooner it’s done, the sooner you can move on with life.
How about you? Are you a perennial procrastinator? How do you deal with it? What’s the downside of procrastination for you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.