How To Manage Workflow For Pressure-Prompted Procrastinators

How To Manage Workflow For Pressure-Prompted Procrastinators

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Confession: I don’t always practice what I preach.

As a coach, I work with my clients to build habits that will support them in achieving their goals. Our approach typically involves creating structures that promote steady effort and accountability. Clients practice mindfulness to learn how to self-manage their emotions; leaders schedule a weekly “meeting with myself” for planning and prioritization; some create spreadsheets for tracking networking targets and follow-up; others write in gratitude journals. All of these are effective in cultivating the new behaviors and awareness that will help them grow and develop.

My own track record, however, is a bit spotty. In my ideal life, there is a certain order and predictability to things, but the reality is that if you look at any moment in time, you would see wild fluctuations in the amount of time I spend on work. Part of this is due to the constantly changing work week that comes from having multiple clients that I meet with each week. But I contribute as well: it turns out that although theoretically I like things to be steady and would prefer to be organized and prepared, I am also very “pressure prompted,” as the Myers-Briggs folks refer to people who tend to need a looming deadline to motivate them. (My college roommates who remember my all-nighters every time I had a big paper due will not be surprised at this revelation.) For those of you who are students of MBTI, I am in the “midzone” between early starting and pressure prompted. In practice, what that looks like is not moderation, but a kind of pendulum swing. My judging self (the one who likes to plan and starts early) is inclined to judge and disapprove the me who stays up late to finish something that I could (should?) have completed days ago if I had just applied myself.

Since, as my colleague Michael Melcher says, “I am my own first and forever client,” this self-recognition is giving me new insight and appreciation for an approach that is less steady-state and more pendulum-like. So I offer some tips to those of you out there who are like me to embrace the pendulum and get it to work for you rather than fighting it.

  • Anticipate and clear the way. Big presentation on Friday? Don’t make lots of other plans for Thursday.
  • Communicate to set expectations. If you are collaborating, tell your colleagues what to expect so that you don’t create unnecessary stress for them.
  • Know yourself. Instead of being shocked each time crunch time comes around, expect it. Surprise triggers stress, but if you have anticipated that the lead-up to a deadline will require intense focus, you will be emotionally prepared.
  • Set incremental deadlines. You can create mini-pressure-prompts by establishing milestones with external accountability, such as a sending first draft of a report to a colleague or scheduling a dry-run of a presentation.
  • Try a “work attack.” If steady effort bores or demotivates you, try working in a 45-60 minute sprint, setting a goal to get through something that needs doing in a set timeframe. It’s like what I used to do to motivate my kids to get ready for bed by challenging them to see if they could be all ready in five minutes. (This works for making incremental progress on a big task or clearing out a bunch of little tasks).
  • Make your procrastination productive. When you are having a hard time making yourself get down to work, you’ll feel better if you use your energy to reorganize your desk or fold a lot of laundry rather than going down the rabbit hole of Facebook or Instagram.
  • Practice acceptance. Don’t waste your energy on scolding yourself for not living up to an ideal that simply doesn’t work for you. Appreciate your own laser focus and productivity when you are cranking through something.
  • Allow the pendulum to swing the other way. When you have gotten through your big crunch time, take a wholesome break. Have a date night, go for a walk, connect with a friend. You need time to rest and renew.

These strategies will help you work with your own tendencies rather than against them.