Deadlines Are Killing

My whole life I’ve been trained in sticking to deadlines.  School and University is nothing but doing a reasonable amount of work  for an event fixed in time (tests,  reports to hand in, etc)  Which, if you are anything like me,  means  procrastinating until the exact moment it can’t wait any longer an then work very hard.    Procrastination is rewarded:   it gives you more free time  and good results, so by the time  you get to your graduation, it has been perfected to find exactly the minimum amount of time needed to still get good results.

However, this skill gets you nowhere on real projects.  Projects like  your graduation or  developing a new product, where there is no fixed ending and you really want to get done as much as possible, as soon as possible.  ( I can probably make a todo list that fills the rest of my lifetime )  Of course there is the fun/interesting stuff that will never get you stuck, however every project (even the most fun ones)  have those tasks that you just need to get done. Not being able to do so in a timely manner is very frustrating.

The first obvious way to try and fix  this, is to create artificial deadlines, to get back that feel of urgency. However, deadlines that you set yourself don’t work, I’m just way to much aware how arbitrary they are.

Furthermore, on real projects, the amount of work is not known in advance. So there is no way to determine when to start to finish ‘just in time’. On the other hand lots of stuff you delay, might take far less time than you expected.  (You actually spend more time thinking about how much time it is going to take)

Procrastination is also closely related to getting ‘into the zone’ (Read: Joel Spolsky on that topic), but to be fair,  there are also lots and lots of activity that do not require any ‘zone’ at all. So, I feel a strong urge to  ‘solve’ this productivity mystery.   One of the obvious choices is reading about the ‘getting things done’  method. However I’ve never succeeded in making it work for me:  Writing everything down in a system, makes it even more overwhelming then just managing it in my head, as my brains are a lot better capable in hiding the ‘someday/unimportant’ stuff that I come up with.

I’m still in doubt though whether this is not just your brain telling you that there is only a fixed amount of productive time and the idle time in between is just needed to solve complex problems. However, there are a few things I did find, that do help:

  • Committing to a task, by telling someone that you will do it: ‘right now’.  (Not some time in the near feature, really: NOW)
  • Do another task instead, that you feel really passionate and confident about, to get going
  • Split up your tasks into such small subtasks that it’s impossible to not finish it (So every time you do any work, you actually finish something, instead of going from   ‘busy’ to ‘still busy’)
  • Work together on a project,  you can keep each other going  ( I believe that is one of the biggest arguments in favor of pair programming)

Are you a procrastinator as well?  And what do you do about it?

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3 Responses to “Deadlines Are Killing”

  1. Michiel . van Vlaardingen » Blog Archive » Getting Things Done: The Pomodoro Way Says:

    [...] few days ago I wrote about procrastination and by coincidence I came across an article about changing your working method to embrace the [...]

  2. fenderbirds Says:

    nice article, keep the posts coming

  3. Michiel . van Vlaardingen » Blog Archive » Waves of Productivity Says:

    [...] wrote about procrastination before, this time I’ll tell you what I found out doesn’t [...]

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