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Aug 29 / King Kaufman

Are you a procrastinator on a deadline? Try making it harder on yourself

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. I keep putting it off …

I’m a procrastinator, which you might think wouldn’t mix with a deadline-driven business, but deadlines are life-savers for those of us who like to put things off. If not for deadlines, I’d still be trying to convince myself that I’ll get to that third-grade spelling homework any minute now.

And another day would go by without me getting to it. As Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes in a post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, Saving Work for Tomorrow Doesn’t Work.

Saunders, a time coach and author, writes:

As an expert in effective time investment, I’ve seen too many individuals procrastinate at work because they think, “I’ll get a lot done later.” Unfortunately, banking on future time rarely aligns with productive results. This mindset leads to unconscious self-sabotage because individuals are not taking advantage of the opportunity to get tasks done right now, and when later comes, they find themselves feeling guilty, burned out, and frustrated. They fall back on their habits to put work off, and it doesn’t get accomplished.

Saunders cites a research study that found a pattern of overoptimism among people given a choice between healthy food or a cookie. If they thought they were going to have a chance to make the same choice again later, they were more likely to take the cookie and say they’d take the healthy choice next time. And then they mostly didn’t.

If you’re the type who promises yourself you’ll get something important done later, Saunders suggests eliminating that possibility. If you schedule something for yourself later, you’ll know you won’t be able to put that work off, so you do it. Another suggestion: Reduce the variability in your schedule. The more flexible your schedule, the easier it is to tell yourself you’ll get to that important task later.

“Choosing to work the same amount each day with little variation on your schedule takes away the mental loophole that allows you to escape from getting things done now,” Saunders writes.

Our friend Roy Peter Clark at Poynter offers a piece of similar advice: Want to avoid procrastination? Impose an early deadline on yourself. If your deadline is 6 p.m., tell yourself your deadline is 4 p.m. If it’s Friday, tell yourself it’s Thursday. If it’s Christmas, tell yourself it’s Thanksgiving. Long deadlines can be killers for procrastinators. Shortening them helps.

Clark says this way of thinking had him turning in a book manuscript almost six months ahead of deadline. I can’t even imagine that. I’ll think about it tomorrow.

Hat tip to the American Press Institute for both links.