Beating procrastination: setting deadlines

After my last Time Management post ‘4 Tricks to Beat Procrastination’, John, one of our readers commented that setting artificial deadlines is a time management strategy that helps him tackle it and I fully agree.
How many things do you have on your to-do list that have no or wishy-washy deadlines? And how are you getting on with those?
As humans we have the tendency to give the immediate reward more importance than the long term pay-off. It means that answering that email from a colleague about that not very important issue gives you a very pleasant feeling of satisfaction: it’s done! It feels much better than working on that report that needs to be finished in two weeks’ time.
I once managed a young woman who was putting off starting project we had agreed she would deliver in 6 months’ time. Although it wasn’t a massive project, it was really necessary that certain things were in place well ahead of time.

When I’d ask her in our one-on-one meetings about her project plan and progress, she would say that her day-to-day tasks and current projects were too pressing to make a start on it – yet. It was clear that the lack of clarity on the project and lack of deadlines created some issues.
We agreed a short term deadline for her to come back with a small project plan. When she did, one thing had become clear to her: there were some critical deadlines in the project! She then defined intermediate steps (milestones) and also decided to self-impose deadlines. She decided to share the timelines and deadlines with me and the rest of the team, to make them firmer to herself.
Once she got going in the project, she couldn’t be stopped. Making the short term deadlines gave her a great feeling of satisfaction and motivation to make the next.
Important time management lessons of this story:
1) Break up your projects or tasks into small chunks
2) Identify as soon as possible when chunks really need to have happened (critical deadlines)
3) Even if you don’t have critical deadlines; set deadlines yourself
4) Make small steps; set many small deadlines. You feel great when you make them, and it gives you the motivation to make the next one, then the next one.
You can learn much more about procrastination and productivity in our one-day Time Management Training: click here for more info.

If you would like to learn some Project Management skills to tackle your smaller and everyday projects, check out our Project Management Essentials course, or Working Effectively Using Project Management Techniques.
Further reading (to help you put off what you really should be doing for a little longer):
This blog from Psychology Today gives an interesting psychological background to procrastination if you’re interested.
Click here for some great procrastination quotes, including my favourite: “The sooner I fall behind, the more time I have to catch up.” – Unknown
Peter Munnik


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