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17 Apr

The longer we wait, the longer it takes

Datum: 2023-04-17 13:05
Sand pours into a hand and between it's fingers in a white room.

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.

Do this

If you want to take the first step towards always get­ting start­ed ear­li­er on tasks than you usu­al­ly do:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?)

A young man in a blue and orange checkered flanell shirt sits at a laptop, sipping on a cup of espresso.

If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

Yes, I want more tips!