I used to be really good at procrastinating--if by "good," you mean I'd wait to the proverbial last minute to start that vital project and then work like a demon to finish it just before the clock struck 12. By the end, I was sweating, stressed out, and completely exhausted, but I felt triumphant that I had persevered over The Man and his hopelessly conventional time-space continuum.
Boy, was I stupid.
I always sort of, kind of, knew that, but I took comfort in the fact that I was among the 25 percent of chronic procrastinators. And I bought into all the usual BS about procrastination: The pressure makes you more creative. It's actually more efficient than dragging tasks out. And the quality of your work doesn't suffer just because you rush to get it done.
As I said: Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Since I was such an idiot about procrastination, what finally made me quit? I had to hit a tipping point. My company had grown to more than 20 people. I was transitioning from practitioner to leader. And I realized that almost everything I worked on affected the ability of one of my team members to do his or her job.
In other words, every time I procrastinated, I made other people's work lives much, much harder.
So one day, without saying anything, I just quit. Here's how you can, too.
1. Reverse engineer.
Approach every project backward, working from the deadline to today. Then figure out what you need to do right now to get to the finish line.
I know what you're thinking: I owe lots of people lots of things immediately. So I can't possibly work on something due next week.
You sound like the old me.
2. Set priorities based on what you owe team members.
This will allow you to get around this jumping from fire-to-fire approach. For example, next week my colleague David and I are leading a workshop. We need help from our design team to create the slides. So last week I created content and briefed the designer so she wouldn't have to rush to do her job.
3. Chart when you are most productive and block time to tackle difficult problems.
For me, that's early morning. So I allocate time--avoiding meetings before 10 a.m.--and get to work during those periods.
4. Know the difference between "percolation" and "procrastination."
I definitely need a buffer between when I receive information and when I can solve the problem. That means allowing time for ideas to brew. But that doesn't mean I have to wait until the eve of when something is due. Usually one or two days is enough time to allow my subconscious to work things through.
5. Trick yourself.
If the deadline is weeks or even months from now, create targets you have to hit. For example, a colleague and I are going to lead a staff workshop in March. So I just invited him to a meeting at the beginning of February to discuss what we're going to cover. That creates a deadline for me, signaling that I need to give the topic some thought before the preliminary meeting.
Life is so much more pleasant when you are not working frantically all the time. Your blood pressure will thank you. More important, so will your team.