Why deadlines don’t work for me and what I’m doing instead

Hello, I’m Kay, and I am a well-practiced procrastinator. When I see a deadline for something that I’d rather not do, I…

  • tell myself I don’t need to do it now because I have plenty of time (until I don’t. I really, really don’t).
  • engage myself in something else I’ve been putting off, but would still rather do than this, because it makes me feel productive.

And as a result…

  • From the time the task is assigned until the deadline is so uncomfortably close that I must address it, I can’t fully relax because I keep having a nagging voice reminding me that this thing needs to be done.
  • As the deadline approaches, I get increasingly anxious about needing to do the thing and not having enough time to do it.
  • When I definitely no longer have enough time to do it, my fear of the consequences finally overrides my desire for avoidance and I hastily do what I can in the time I’ve allowed myself.
  • As I present the result of my efforts, I feel embarrassed by the lack of quality.
  • Oftentimes the task goes back on my to-do list because I either didn’t fully complete it or I completed it with mistakes or oversights that need addressing.
  • Rinse, repeat.
  • But hey, I got done a bunch of other less pressing things that I had been procrastinating… so there’s that.

All of the above is when someone else imposes the deadline. When I set one, chances are good the project will drag on and on long past my desired deadline and sometimes I lose all motivation to complete it at all.

Why do I continue to procrastinate even though doing so tends to cause me so much shame and unrest? I’m sure the answer is multi-faceted, but one of the things I’ve realized is that I often struggle with knowing where to start or just knowing how many steps I need to take to get to the end feels overwhelming.

So lately, I’ve been trying something new and it seems to be working, or at the very least, it’s working way better than feeding my anxiety until it’s so big I can’t ignore it. First, I have to decide that this project is a priority and then set aside a time each day where I’m going to work on it. When it’s time to work on it, I ask myself one question…

What is one thing I can do right now to move this forward?

There’s something about this question and the way it’s worded that allows my brain to surface one bite-sized task without any barriers preventing me from doing it. Even if I’m relying on someone else to complete their task, one thing I can do right now is send that person an email asking for a status update and reminding them that I’m waiting on them.

When I think about a project, I often get lost in the whole journey of it. I think about all the obstacles in my way before I’ve even encountered them. Asking myself what I can do right this minute to get from point A to point B allows myself to ignore the rivers and mountains I’ll need to cross and lets me focus just on putting one foot in front of the other. By the time I get to the mountain, asking the same question allows me to focus solely on that mountain. When I can focus on one thing at a time, my options for solutions come more easily to me. And sometimes I realize what looked like a mountain from far away was actually a small hill.

When it comes to my job, I still need to meet deadlines, but now at least I can make sure I’m making progress before it becomes too late. And when it comes to my own projects, I’m no longer setting deadlines. Instead I’m making sure to set ONE project as a priority and then every day I set aside time to ask myself: What is one thing I can do right now to move this forward?

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