It was a Thursday and I’d be given a Deadline of two weeks on Wednesday. But when did I start?
Yep, you guessed it. Not that day, no siree. So, why do we put ourselves through it?
The reason we give to others and ourselves for deadline procrastination is:
I work better under pressure.
Do you heck? You don’t. In fact, you are much more stressed when you choose to work under pressure and more likely to have a heart attack if you keep subjecting yourself to it.
Plus, here’s the rub. You don’t need to. You don’t. Stop convincing yourself you do by knowing why you really do it, and then using our workaround. It’s all about mindset and with a few simple brain hacks you can reduce your stress significantly and you can still hit your deadlines.
Back to My Story…
My boss had asked me to present at a client meeting, which was two weeks away, on Wednesday. Today was Thursday. The logical point of my brain said, ‘I must get this done soon. I must. I’ll start on it tomorrow. I will. Because I have a clear day’.
I came to work the next day early with great hopes and intentions. Here’s how my day went:
First, I got in. Coffee. Sat down at my desk. I’ll just have a quick look at my emails. I looked and a little while later I heard ‘Coming to the 10 O’clock catch-up?’. Dam. I’d forgotten about that.
I got back to my desk at 11.15 a.m. I must do that presentation for that client Mike wanted me to do. Bags of time. I’ll just check my emails, and do a few phone calls. Quick lunch. 2 pm meeting. Back at my desk at 4 pm. Must start that presentation. I must. A quick check of my emails. Then a disaster – I had to call a customer and it turned into an urgent problem I had to solve and took forever.
Rinse and repeat, like Groundhog Day until the day before – Tuesday.
I must get this presentation done. Visible signs of distress. I pretty much told everyone I came into contact with that I needed to get the presentation done. I now had to harass accounts and marketing for those client bits and those departments weren’t gonna be happy as they liked a few weeks’s notice – not a few hours. I’d have to do my best persuading, and then the inevitable escalation to my boss, to their boss, to get what I needed. But, I’ll just get these few pieces done and then the decks are clear.
Ah, excellent…Everyone has gone home and I can start the presentation. No more emails, calls, or meetings. It’s 6.18 pm.
Then, I spent the next 4 hours on that deck. Also, at the time, my energy was at its lowest and I didn’t have the accounts or marketing information, so I had to find a workaround that I could get away with. Also known as ‘winging’.
Finally, I got home at around 12.15 p.m. for my wife to wake up and say, ‘They work you too hard. Can’t someone else pick up the slack?’ I agreed and didn’t tell her the truth. I’d ‘burnt the midnight oil’ again, as my Dad would say.
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Why Do We Put Ourselves Through It? Being a Deadline Junkie
Let’s Start With Why We Shouldn’t:
- Firstly, stress. This is a big one. Unnecessary stress leads to death, according to the American Psychological Association.
Chronic stress is linked to six leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.
- We don’t have to do it this way. We have evolved and we know how our brains work. Let’s be smarter than yesterday’s generation.
- Who likes to work with a headless chicken? No-one.
- Stress reduces our IQ. Just when we need it most for our best work, we are using a lesser version of our brain.
- To achieve the deadline we winged something. That’s never a great thing to do.
- Our families don’t want us working all hours and when we are there, we’re tired & stressed and likely to take it out on them.
- If you were to describe a great leader you don’t use words like stressed, winger, up against it, tired, etc. Are you a future leader?
Then, Why We Do It:
Simply, we don’t trust ourselves. It’s that simple.
Imagine if your boss cleared the decks of everything you had to do, only leaving that one important task. You would have spent all your time on it. Of course you would as you had nothing else to do. But here’s the problem…you’d overdo it. Spend unnecessary time on choosing which font, probably googling the best fonts for sales or some such nonsense. You’d fiddle with the layout, a lot! And then you’d go too far – like well, if we really want this pitch to work we need real actors to demonstrate the experience.
You see, there’s an advantage to being ‘busy‘. The advantage is that you give enough time to things without being afforded the luxury of being able to go overboard. The challenge is that we rely on being busy to just get stuff done and we don’t consciously choose. For example:
- That task is just internal, so I’ll do that ‘Good enough’.
- That is a pitch to a client, so I need to do that ‘Great enough’.
Instead, we rely on our subconscious doing these amazing computations whilst we are doing other things. It plans, works out, and schemes behind our backs to arrive at the answer. That is, if we start at 6:18 pm on Tuesday, we can slide onto the last base, fire bursting from our heels, hitting the deadline and telling everyone how hard it was but we had made it and made it in style. Bang on the deadline. It’s a bit like the joy of jumping on a tube or train just as the doors shut around us. Made it!
Breaking the Deadline Junkie Habit is Hard
Changing this behaviour is hard. Why should we? It works, sort of.
The way I see it, the first step is recognition. We need to know that we are doing this.
The second step is accepting the consequences: stress, and lots of it, on top of an already demanding job.
The third step is knowing that if we want to lead, then by being last minute, there is a ripple effect across our team and the business. Our last minute becomes their last minute, which becomes the junior staff member’s last minute, and so on. This may begin to create a culture where last-minute work is the only way. But it’s not.
Future Leaders Choose to Lead by Example Before They Become Future Leaders
We need to lead by example because it is no good saying to ourselves that when we are leaders we’ll do it that way. It doesn’t work like that because you need to develop the habits now that you can rely on when you are a great leader. Habits take time to form and it is before we become a positional leader that we need to be an expel leader. One becomes the other.
There are 3 Habits I have found that have helped me to break the deadline junkie habit:
1. ‘Get the Hare Running’
When you have a deadline, begin with the first simple and practical action. Email Bob asking for the data. Alan Lakein, the grandfather of time management, described this as poking a single hole in Swiss cheese. Check out our article on how to stop procrastinating.
2. Resist the Urge to Tinker
Tinkering has its consequences so stop doing it. Discipline yourself by asking, ‘How much value is this adding to achieving the objective?’
3. Write a Simple Objective
For example, ‘7 Slides that Engage the Client Enough to Make the Decision of XYZ’. Check back against that objective and accept ‘great enough’. When it is great enough, to achieve its objective, leave it.
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