Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Stop Procrastinating and Beat That Deadline Now

Beat that deadline now.

The word "deadline"originated in the US Civil War. If you were a Union prisoner at the Confederates' Andersonville Prison and you stepped over a fixed line, you'd get shot. Starting late or going over deadlines is now a psychological issue that has to do with a timelines.

Deadline procrastination is waiting as long as you safely can to meet a due date. In deadline procrastination you sidetrack yourself from preparing for a test or completing a report and then rush at the 11th hour, barely make the deadline, or miss it all together. Sometimes you have no formal deadline but an implied one. You put off returning a phone call and lose a contract to a nimble competitor. With less formal deadlines, "the race goes to the swift."

Deadlines are everywhere. There are times to buy birthday gifts. There are times to meet a work schedule. There are times to file your taxes. You'll make most of these deadlines. However, you may put off starting some because you view them as inconvenient, unpleasant, or threatening. You wait until the 11th hour to study for an exam, drive with an expired inspection sticker on your windshield, or receive notices from your local library about overdue books. Facing those procrastination hot spots you dance a hesitation waltz. Scurrying to meet the deadline becomes a press-cooker activity.

Is deadline procrastination common? About 60% of surveyed college students report that procrastination is their number one nemesis. They report they can profit from professional help to rid themselves of this habit of delay. Does that mean the other 40% are efficiency dynamos? Hardly!

Do procrastination delays occur in business? One corporate CEO told me that there is no procrastination in his 30,000 person organization. His executives uprooted procrastination by handing out pink slips. I had a hard time keeping a straight face.

By taking the cost of procrastination out of the price of products gives corporations an enormous competitive edge. However, it takes more than denialsthat there are "no procrastinators in my organization" to gain this edge.

Delay meeting a deadline and you might get an extension if you come up with the right excuse. So, you fudge an explanation. The dog ate my homework is a classic but rarely used fiction. Excuses such as the computer hard drive crashed, or there was a death in the family, are common fictions to excuse procrastinating.

If you don't like the added hassle of letting important deadlines slide, and you want to operate like the productive you know you can be, let's look atwhat triggers for this form of procrastination. Then, I'll introduce you to a sample of cognitive, emotive, and behavioral self-help tips to get traction and gain ground in getting things done on time.

What Conditions Trigger Deadline Procrastination?

What you do to overcome deadline procrastination partially depends on the situation and your perception of it. Procrastination may be triggered by mechanisms that are, at first, outside of your conscious awareness. For example, going for quick rewards is built into human nature. That tendency partially explains why you put off deadline activities that are not immediately rewarding. By making yourself consciously aware of this tendency to follow the easy path, you can chart a different course.

When your primitive mammalian brain and higher mental processes pull in different directions, you can styme yourself with a conflict between doing and retreating. Your primitive mammalian brain and higher mental processes conflict with each other. Your mammalian brain instincts are to follow the path of least resistance. Your reasoning brain understands the value of timely actions and the consequences of delay. Only one view wins the day.

Unless you make yourself consciously mindful of this conflict, it is "easy" to let some deadlines slide. Make a deliberate effort to map this conflict and think it out. Then force yourself to override theseprimitive impulses, whether you feel like it or not. You have a better shot at starting sooner rather than later.

Step Onto The Path of Positive Change

If you put off a deadline activity, does this mean you need to act disciplined? That's a partial answer. But saying "I need to be better disciplined" is about as effective as "Just say no to drugs." Slogans rarely change problem habits. Discipline is a byproduct of doing something productive first. Let's look at athree-pronged cognitive, emotive, and behavior approach to start earlier and meet deadlines sooner.

Cognitive analysis and follow through. What do you tell yourself about a deadline situation when you procrastinate? Do you believe that you shouldn't have to be inconvenienced? Do you have resentful thoughts about the situation or persons you associate with it? Do you think that if you can't do it perfectly, it doesn't make sense to do it at all? This procrastination thinking can seem credible and compelling. The thoughts are normally not compelling when you examine them.

Self-questioning can reshape perspective. Where is it written that you should not suffer inconvenience? If you resent an authority who sets a deadline, what is the point of giving yourself a double trouble: the resentment plus a potential penalty for ducking the deadline? When does doing something well enough trump doing something perfectly? By taking this extra step you set the stage for comfortably meeting the deadline.

Emotion analysis and follow through. Your emotions can reflect your perceptions of a deadline situation. View the task as onerous, unpleasant, and threatening and you are likely to feel the way you think. If you fear and duck activities that you associate with frustration, you may think the way that you feel. Wait to feel inspired to meet the deadline, you are likely to act you have no other choice.

When this thinking, emoting, avoiding pattern is over-practiced, the process automatically recurs. So what do you do? Sight beyond the hassles and inconvenience to the goal you want to accomplish. What step can you take now? Take the first step. Once into this active change process, see if your resistive emotions change. (Developing emotional self-regulation is an important phase in meeting deadlines.)

Behavior analysis and follow through. What do you do when you first start delaying? Is it playing a computer game? Do you have a list of friends you call to talk aboutthe meaning of life? When you refuse to engage in these distractions, you have made a radical shift in the direction of engaging in productive actions.

By organizing your self-help follow through program around cognitive, emotive, and behavioral ways of knowing and doing, you are on your way to progressively master procrastination by engaging these productive actions.

If you want an in-depth look at a cognitive, emotive, behavioral approach to curb procrastination, click on End Procrastination Now

(C) Dr. Bill Knaus

All rights reserved