The practice of putting tasks off until the last minute stems from fear of failure or a lack of motivation. Unconsciously some may believe that the task they need to do won’t result in any significant gains or progress. For other people, procrastination arises when there are too many choices and not enough direction or structure to guide their actions. Still, others work better under pressure and put critical tasks off to the last minute. They may feel the most creative and energized by working under a looming deadline.
The problem with putting tasks off to the last minute is that procrastinators run the risk of making careless mistakes, missing critical parts of the project and sacrificing quality in order to beat the clock.
When procrastination threatens your credibility, undermines your work and the work of your teammates, the extra time you may gain by putting off a project really isn’t worth it. In the long run, the more you consciously fight procrastination, the more confident you’ll feel about your ability to deliver top-notch results on time.
Mark your calendar weeks in advance of critical deadlines. Note various milestones on the way to your deadline so that you are always reminded of the project’s upcoming due date. The last thing you want is to turn the page on your desktop calendar and find out that a project you forgot about is due today!
Understand the consequences of not getting your project done on time: Will you lose your job? Will your co-workers feel that you have let them down? Will putting the project off keep you from getting a raise, positive performance review or credit for your work? Procrastination may seem like nothing more than a bad habit, but when procrastination becomes the norm, your reputation as someone who can be relied on to get the job done may take a heavy hit. Is the extra time you’ve given yourself to goof off really worth the potential negative outcomes of delaying your work?
Make a note of how long you think each task will take to complete. Break projects that will take longer than 2 hours to complete down into bite-sized 20 minute chunks of time.
Create a project outline with a checklist of small tasks that you can start working on right away. As you develop your to-do list for the project, itemize the tasks in a logical sequence. What tasks must be completed first, second, third and so on? Make a note of any tasks that you need to work on with others and make sure that you discuss your goals and expected timeline for completion with those people.
Create a hard-copy folder for this new list and mark the folder “To-Do: Important” with a bold red pen. Keep the file on your desk and in sight at all times. Check your list several times a day to keep track of what needs to be completed. As you finish each task, make a satisfying check-mark next to the item, cross it off the list or write a little peppy note next to the completed item to keep you motivated and upbeat: “Way to go!” “Good job!” “Almost done!” -- whatever makes you feel good about getting through your list.
Support and encourage other co-workers in completing their tasks ahead of schedule. Remind them of where their job fits into the whole scheme of things. Communicate expectations to each member of the team and offer opportunities to problem-solve together so that if one team member is stuck, the entire project doesn’t get held up.
At the end of each day, take a few minutes to visualize yourself completing your project ahead of schedule. Imagine how relaxed and confident you will feel knowing that you have given the project all the care and attention it deserves.
The effort you make now to beat your deadline and give yourself plenty of room to revise, rework or correct any errors ahead of time, will reduce stress and increase your sense of accomplishment. By consciously working through your procrastination habit, you’ll reduce the number of potential mistakes and embarrassing errors that could ruin your project and let your team members down.