You know the feeling. The dreaded countdown to the deadline. The hours and minutes seem to speed by faster and faster. Your blank paper, screen or image editing software stares at you, first patiently, then gloomily, then ominously. Your heart beats faster as you think of the shrinking gap between the time to deadline and the time you need to get the work done.
It causes stress. You to rush work and submit final drafts that are clearly not your best effort. It seemed like a good idea when you started. It ended with you clutching your head, gulping endless cups of coffee, entertaining crazy ideas of how to squeeze more work out of your sleep-deprived brain. Your eyes burn. You look longingly back at the lost hours when you could have worked spent visiting those time-wasting experts: YouTube, Imgur, Buzzfeed and Facebook.
So you know that procrastination leads to nothing good. You also know that you are likely going to do it again. The question is why? And how do make it stop?
First, the why.
Working for a web design company means generating creative content and ideas, frequently to deadline. Not just us either. Often, it’s the client putting off decisions about their project.
Creativity isn’t a tap, though. Sometimes the ideas are there and they are great!
Sometimes the ideas are there and they are unrelentingly awful.
Worst, sometimes the ideas are somewhere else. And the muse that lives in the bottom of your coffee cup? Gone.
So procrastination comes knocking. You’ve got time, you tell yourself. There are hours until the project is due and you have to go find your muse. The internet beckons with all its wondrous and mysterious mysteries. You’ll figure out how to design this website by looking at other designs! Yes!
Procrastinating is often a sign that, for now, the well is a bit dry. You’ve thought too long about a project or it’s something completely different and you just aren’t sure how to grab onto it and wrestle it down.
It can also be a sign that the work you’ve already put into a project is not panning out. You are looking at Buzzfeed because you don’t want to admit that you might need to scrap your work to this point and start again.
We also use procrastination to avoid making decisions or taking actions that make us uncomfortable or are perceived as high risk. When you’ve got a big project to tackle with lots of pressure to get it right, the uncomfortable feeling that you might get it wrong can keep you scrolling through those cat videos.
So we’ve covered the why and when.
Now what do you do to stop it?
First, make a list. Break down what you need to do into chunks that you know you can handle and set firm (yes, firm) deadlines. Also called drop-deadlines.
Second, stop making lists.
That’s right. List making is like watching cat videos but worse. At least when you watch cat videos, you know you are doing nothing productive. When you make lists, you feel that you are accomplishing something.
What you are is an accomplished list-maker with many lists. What you are not is closer to completing your project. So stop it.
Third, get an accomplice. Someone that can filter your due dates and send you earlier fake ones. Someone that can crack the whip and truly hold you to account. Someone that will make a list of all the horrible jobs you have to do if you aren’t working on your project. Someone preferably either large and scary or capable of giving a “Disapproving Mom/Dad” stare.
Finally, you are going to procrastinate at some point. It’s just a fact of your life. So learn how to procrastinate productively. You may not want to think about a big life decision, but there are probably a few small ones that you can tackle. Things that you’ve put off that are now friendlier looking than whatever brain-cramping puzzle is currently driving you to incessant link clicking.
Another option is to accept that every deadline you have is going to turn into a stomach-cramping, frustrated, soul-crushing, looming monster that eats your creativity and drops you into panicked regurgitation.
I know. I’ve been there. Everyone picks that option sometimes.
Couple of good articles on procrastination:
“Why do we procrastinate so much?” from BBC News Magazine
“The Science Behind Why We Procrastinate So Much” from Lifehacker.
And for a real good procrastination tool that I’ve used frequently, a Ted Talk:
Now then, back to work everyone! 🙂