BY ALLIE SHAW
We all know that familiar feeling of dread: a rapidly approaching deadline can be extremely panic-inducing, especially when you’ve left a big assignment to the last minute. Procrastination is an issue that almost everyone has to conquer. Luckily, you have lots of ways to circumvent your tendency to push off a deadline.
The Procrastination Problem
Missing a deadline is often linked to procrastination, and the roots of procrastination can show you how to avoid the cycle of delaying your work on a project. Procrastination can stem from depression, anxiety, and a lack of self-compassion. In other words, our fear of failure drives us to try to feel better temporarily by seeking a distraction or working on another task. Missing a deadline can reinforce these anxieties by introducing shame and guilt, making it even harder to meet your next one.
Being kind to yourself and avoiding feelings of blame or self-doubt is a good first step for any procrastinator, but breaking the chain of missed deadlines requires a conscious and organized effort to work smarter. Follow these six steps on your next big project, and you can skip the panic and stress of a missed deadline completely.
- Deadlines Are Our Friends
If your deadline is stressing you out, it may help to reframe it as a tool to finish your work and achieve your goals. Deadlines give us the opportunity to plan our work schedule and space out projects over time. Thinking about your deadline as a planning tool can help put you feel in control of the associated anxiety.
- Write Out a Schedule
A single large deadline at the end of a project can make it difficult to space out your workload and track your progress. Building a schedule of smaller deadlines for distinct parts of the project helps structure your time and prevents a last-minute crunch.
You can build in time for other activities, like going to the gym or cleaning your space, to help contribute to the positive feeling of control. Once you have your schedule written down, don’t forget to cross off tasks as you go along – the satisfaction of another completed part of your assignment will help motivate you as you go along.
- Break Down the Assignment
Breaking a large project down into smaller individual tasks can make your deadline feel much more manageable. For instance, you can separate a big paper like a research project into basic tasks, such as conducting research, working on an outline, developing a first draft, and revising or editing. Don’t fall victim to the planning fallacy; many tasks take longer than expected, so build in lots of extra time for unexpected delays.
- Set Smaller Benchmarks
Working toward smaller goals can help satisfy your craving for gratification and accomplishment. When pursuing a smaller task like writing an outline, set a goal for yourself that is quickly achievable to keep yourself moving. A simple goal, like “Write down five topic sentences,” can spur progress that keeps you on track toward completing the larger project.
It’s also helpful to articulate your goals as specifically as possible. Vague goals like “revise the paper” can still seem pretty scary – an even more specific benchmark like “look for spelling errors in the first two pages” can simplify your writing process.
- Have the Right Workspace and Tools
When you’re sitting down to work on a task, a cluttered desk and an open browser tab can pull your focus away from your work. Avoiding distractions takes a bit of mental discipline, but you can make things easier for yourself by turning off your smartphone, clearing your workspace, and using an add-on that blocks distracting sites like Facebook.
Also, make sure you have all the materials and tools you need to work effectively. Invest in a reliable internet connection so you can hit that 11:55 p.m. deadline without a worry, and look for student discounts for things like Microsoft Office applications rather than struggle with third-party alternatives.
- Go Easy on Yourself
Like anything else, beating procrastination takes practice. Don’t let a single missed goal derail your entire project. Remind yourself that any minor issues along the way aren’t insurmountable; you can always start fresh and keep working toward your goal. Don’t expect perfection from your work, either. A first draft should be rough and imperfect, and having a foundation for revision helps set you on a path toward completion.
Successfully managing deadlines is as much about your mindset as it is about your process. Through positive reinforcement and the accomplishment of small goals, you can find the energy and willpower you need to persevere. The next time a big deadline looms on your horizon, you’ll have the confidence you need to work productively and meet your objective.
By Allie Shaw
Allie Shaw graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in communications and public relations. She is an expert in all things technology and lifestyle and is a freelance writer for multiple publications.