A lot of research has been done on deadlines, procrastination and productivity. It seems to be a constant struggle for many individuals to regulate their behaviours in such a way so as to keep to deadlines in a reasonable way; most may complete the required task exactly by the deadline and some may even miss it and face the consequences. The fact that it is a repetitive pattern in the same individuals only shows us that that person is getting something from this pattern of behaving. Thus, the first thing that anyone with a difficulty to keep to deadlines should do, is think about the effects of deadlines; how do they affect me? What are my reactions and thoughts? What purpose is this behaviour serving me?
- Why do I procrastinate?
According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, there is an optimal level of arousal for an optimal level of performance. This means that a certain amount of stress to being close to a deadline, leads the body to experience heightened arousal which makes it better to function and become more productive. However, if this stress / tension were to increase so much (because you don’t have enough material to complete your task for example, or you need the input of others and they aren’t available anymore), would make you even less productive because the arousal would be so much that you can’t focus or produce anything of good quality.
Another reason for procrastinating may be that it is a learned pattern. You may have expereinced a number of deadlines, always left it close to the deadline, and always managed to complete a task up to a good standard. The fact that this has worked more than once, may be a good ‘excuse’ to keep on repeating the same pattern other times. However, it may be more realistic to admit that if you pace your work better, the quality of your work may improve, you may have better resoures and opportuniites at your disposition and you end up bothering less the people who are expecting things from you if you always send them your work at the last minute.
- The Planning Fallacy
The planning fallacy is a cognitive bias that leads people to be too positive when planning and estimating the amount of time needed to complete any given task. This tends to be a problem when it comes to deadlines because one may not take into account other factors that may go wrong and may mean that your estimate is not realistic. Thus when planning, you may need to ask yourself; What could go wrong? What might add to the time required to complete this task? How much more time should I add to my estimate of required time in order to be able to complete this within the required time?
- Listing Priorities
Another important aspect is to make a list of your expectations and the things that you are required to do. When you think about the whole picture, it helps to place things in perspective. If I have an assignment to complete, what are the other tasks that I need to dedicate my time to until my deadline? Are there any errands? Other commitments? What should come first if I only have a limited amount of time to spare? This is also relevant when planning on how to work on your assignment, for example how much time should I dedicate to gathering infomration and resources to read in comparison to how much I need to dedicate to the actual writing.
- Avoid distractions and set specific times.
The truth is, that there are so many other (more interesting) things, which one can do instead of working to meet a deadline. It may mean clearing up your room to declutter and being able to focus, or making a snack for yourslef, finish an episode or two from your current series? Text your friend who you’ve been meaning to contact for the last couple of days or even buy that item of clothing you may need for a social event that may happen. Is this familiar? You might even feel the need to research about how walruses keep their tusks clean.
How to avoid this? You already have made a list of what you need to focus on, now set a specific time. Make an alarm on your mobile, block time on your calendar. Make sure to make it realistic and take into consideration that you may need a good 30 minutes before you actually start. Thus it may be a good idea to set a 30 minute event in your calendar to de-clutter and unwind before your actual event to work on the specific task starrts. Enusre that you have enough time to work on your task before the deadline happens. Thus you may split it up in 5 sessions during two weeks before the deadline. Take into account anything that may stop you from working on your plan and evaluate what goes differently to what you have expected.
- Be conscious of what your expectations are.
A drawback to meeting a deadline is that we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We may expect to be able to juggle a number of different things at the same time and take on more than we can cope with. It is important to be realistic, and accept the fact that there may be times when we refuse to accept a project, or to take part in an interesting initiative because our time and energy is limited.
J.S., DeLuca, J. and Caplan, B. Encyclopaedia of Clinical Neuropsychology, 2011
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.