There are many differing opinions on how close to deadlines we ought to complete tasks. Some prefer meeting their deadlines at the very last minute and under certain pressure because they then perceive themselves as working faster, more effectively and sometimes more creatively than if they begin working on a task well ahead of its due date.
Others prefer getting an early start with at least part of the task since they find it valuable to ”process” the task internally from time to time while it is slowly but steadily nearing completion, and allow their subconscious to chew on the problem and figure out solutions, new angles and unexpected perspectives which they would never have though of if they had done the task in a haste.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
Personally I can relate to both approaches, but I prefer having plenty of time to finish and the flexibility that provides. Although, I also enjoy that slight sensation of euphoria derived from feeling flow and seeing all the pieces coming together in the final hours before something is due.
He who does not have time, is never free
But, for all of us who have a lot on our plates and lengthy to-do-lists owing to being ambitious and sometimes setting the bar too high, leaving a task until the last minute is not advisable. Not only do we become less flexible in our planing when too many of these procrastinated tasks pile up and sooner or later ”need to be done right away”, but we also risk not having enough time to complete the task if it should happen to take longer than we anticipated and we begin working on it too late.
How so? Well… :
- If we are doing a task last minute, we are less likely to find someone to delegate part of the task to since ”the other person” needs to be available more or less immediately in order to help us. If we on the other hand commence the task early we will have longer until the task is due, and chances are that we find someone who is available sometime before our deadline. If we begin working with the task late, we have to spend more of our precious time since if we are not assisted by someone else, we will need to complete a greater part of the task by ourselves.
- If we procrastinate and start a task we said we would do ages ago late, we risk having forgotten what needed to be done and what we meant by the brief notes we formulated regarding the to-do-task. We have to spend more of our precious time since we now have to draw the details of the meeting during which we got the task to mind, and might have to look for meeting notes that hopefully contain the important clues we need to finish.
- When you agreed that you would do the task, a colleague showed you how to do it, but that was quite a while ago and you have more or less forgotten how to proceed. And to make matters worse, the college in question is no longer available. We have to spend more of our precious time since we now have to locate another colleague (who hopefully is available) who could guide us through the routine again.
- If you are truly running out of time and are an ambitious person, you probably feel more and more stressed as you near the deadline. We have to spend more of our precious time since we tend to make more mistakes when stressed, which then results in more time spent correcting our errors.
This is why you should get an early start on at least part of a task that you otherwise most likely will postpone.
If you want to take the first step towards always getting started earlier on tasks than you usually do:
- Skim through your to-do-list and your project overview, and look for tasks that have a deadline set far from now, but which are the type of tasks you tend to procrastinate and perhaps have previously submitted late.
- Define a first step for each and every one of these tasks as a small and concrete to-do-task, and resolve to complete these first steps in the next while ahead. How soon you should do these first steps is up to you, but the sooner you get going, the easier it will be to finish the task and the less effort will have to be put into doing it.
- If you still want to experience that gentle thrill of finishing tasks at the very last second, leave the final step of the task until the very last moment. Since you have completed the greater part of the task and only left the finishing step, you can allow yourself to complete that last bit just before it is due and still manage to finish the task on time. Since there are only a few final steps, you will be able to run the race against the clock towards the very end without risking not finishing the tasks. After all, why choose when when you can have both?
Done before you know it
If you start working on tasks that are not yet urgent early, then you will surely avoid the time-traps mentioned above. You will finish more by exerting less effort, and you will hence have more time for other things — other tasks or whatever you wish to spend your free time doing.
What is your best method?
Do you have a particularly good trick you use when time is short and the deadline is fast approaching to get a lot done in a short amount of time? Simple tips that speed up our work methods is something not only I, but many others find useful as well, so please tell me.
(By the way, have you found these six ways to get things done more in advance?)