For years I have yearned to be one of those people who get the job done way ahead of time, giving them time to be smug and relaxed. Instead, I find myself consistently working right down to the wire, feeling the pressure of the deadline. I procrastinate and I've berated myself for that but I am also a high achiever. I am definitely driven by a deadline but it's taken me a long time to realise it.
Acknowledging how I work
Take this blog for example, for the past ten years I've tried to write it in advance and there have been occasions when I've managed it, sometimes even writing more than one but on the whole, I write it on the day I publish. I find that the pressure of needing to get it done provides me with motivation and often, inspiration. I trust my instincts and I notice that the words come more easily, flow better, need fewer corrections and are often better received by you, dear reader. If I write it too far in advance I have too much time to change it, to 'perfect' it, I go too far.
It took someone in my business mastermind group a couple of months ago to make me realise. I was lamenting the fact that each week I had a goal of writing my blog on a Friday, in advance of Wednesday's publication and yet it never happened. I would book in clients, kids would be sick, I'd find other things to do! I'd even downloaded the app to my phone so I could write it 'on the go'.
Louise, one of the other members said to me "why don't you just schedule it for a Wednesday if that's when you write it? Otherwise, you're beating yourself up for not meeting a goal you never have any intention of meeting". Mind. Blown.
Limiting beliefs again...
Why wasn't I scheduling it for the day it was due? The answer is because I believed that 'my way', my last-minute approach was the wrong way. I had a limiting belief (that I didn't even know existed) that to be a success you needed to plan it and do it in advance. I felt ashamed that I was leaving it 'late'. Truth is though, I was the same as a teenager. I'd draw beautiful revision schedules, planning to get all my revision done way in advance of the exam but the truth was, I learned best at the last minute. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't doing all my revision as I walked into the exam, I didn't want to fail it, but I had set myself an invisible deadline when I knew it was the point of no return. Since my mind knew I still had time before that deadline, I wasn't going to waste my time trying to learn it, I had other things to do.
Now as an adult, I still do the same. I have a plan but I also know myself well enough to understand that I don't do things well in advance. I'm aware I need the pressure of a deadline and as my friend reminds me...I get more done in those ten minutes before someone turns up than I do all day!
How our emotions motivate us
According to Dr Mary Lamia, author of the book “What Motivates Getting Things Done” these are just two different motivational styles when it comes to completing a task and it's our emotions that motivate us to take action on a task.
Positive emotions could be:
- The anticipation of the feeling of completing the task
Negative emotions could be:
- Anxiety (fear and distress combined)
It is these negative emotions which drive and motivate us because they move us to take action because we hate how they feel and want to get rid of them. It is when these emotions kick in which defines the difference between a procrastinator and someone who is compelled to complete a task immediately.
Procrastinators who consistently complete tasks on time, even if it's at the last moment, are motivated by emotions that are activated when a deadline is imminent; they're deadline-driven.
Deadline driven people
Deadline driven people still complete their tasks on time, even if they start at the last minute. It’s not the same as failing to act at all. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that having a list of tasks doesn't motivate me, even if they're a high priority in terms of importance or value. The priority comes from when the closest deadline is. It's also why on the face of it, I work well to a task list but if you look deeper, those tasks each need a deadline. Although many people tease me for writing times next to each task, it's a form of a deadline, so it works for me.
It means that even if I'm not consciously working on something, it's simmering in the back of my mind. So that when I do sit down to do it, it's halfway done.
Task driven people
So what if you're not driven by a deadline? Non-procrastinators, whom Lamia refers to as “task driven” have their emotions activated simply by having uncompleted tasks. They can’t stand it when something isn’t done. They’re driven to do it so they can get it off their mind and put it behind them — even if it’s kind of slap-dash. On a practical level, you might find that you like to cross lots of tasks off your to-do list? This could mean you're always busy and/or you might get lots of little tasks done first because they're easier to cross off the list.
There's no right or wrong way, both of these methods lead to success and the completion of tasks and goals. It's about understanding what drives you so that you work most effectively for you. The important question is not “How do I stop procrastinating?” but “Am I meeting my deadlines and producing high-quality work?”
Whether you are driven by a deadline or by a task, both of these methods might lead to burnout. Make sure you put some self-care strategies in place:
- If you're deadline driven you could put a fake deadline into a calendar to give yourself some space. You'll probably need to tell someone so you stay accountable or you'll tell yourself it's a fake deadline and ignore it! (or is that just me?!)
- If you're task driven you might want to add some self-care tasks into your daily or weekly list(s) so that you can tick them off.