You Can Do Better: Set Shorter Deadlines to Beat Procrastination

November 3, 2014 Permalink

Every week, I tell myself that I will write an article for this blog during one of my weekday 5:00 AM writing sessions.

Every week, I end up writing it on Saturday or Sunday morning, and editing it on Sunday evening.

Since I publish on Mondays, this means that every week, I procrastinate until the last minute and pound out an article in the writing period before I publish it.

I’m not alone in this sensation of procrastination. Unless there is a compelling reason to not procrastinate, humans have the tendency to wait until the last few days before something is due to actually get started.

We Procrastinate in Setting the Startline…

If you are in debt, how many times have you told yourself “I’ll start paying more of it down in the New Year” or “when the summer is over”, or some other time in the vague future?

You reach the fall or the New Year and it turns into the spring or after Christmas, because you didn’t have a plan, let alone a target date, and you procrastinate further.

You continue making minimum payments on your debt and a few years pass by and you wonder why you didn’t start paying down earlier, because now you have incurred hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest.

We procrastinate on setting real startlines, let alone deadlines.

And Set Low Standards For Ourselves When Setting the Deadline.

We have terribly low standards for ourselves. When we decide we want to do something, we give ourselves a ridiculous amount of time to get it done.

This is tied to two things:

1. Self belief: “I have to give myself a long deadline because I don’t think I can do it in less time”

2. Timeliness, or and the misguided notion that SMART goal concept is the be-all, end-all of goal setting and that “realistic” piece means that we have to be easy on ourselves.

Take my goal to save $12,000 for travel by February, for instance. I had seven months to reach this goal.

I’m accountable to my readers, myself, my husband, and our budget since I already have many travel plans. There’s no turning back with this goal, so I know I must reach it.

When I first set the goal, I was excited. It was new, shiny, and important, so I saved $5,000 within the first few weeks of setting it.

Then: nothing. I have spent the past two months saving very little. I was travelling, then excusing myself for not saving more because I was getting back into the groove of having a full paycheck.

Come December, there is no doubt that I’ll realize the error of my procrastinating ways, panic, and save the next $7,000 over the two month period.

procrastination deadlines

This is exactly what will/has happened.

(In reality, since I’m writing about it now, I’ve transferred more money into my savings, but that is what would have happened had I not decided to write this post).

What I really should have done is set a higher standard for myself.

I probably could have reached this goal in four or five months. If I had given myself four months, I would have been pushed to find a way to make a little more or cut back on another expense.

Setting Unrealistic Deadlines

In the 4 Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss writes about the concept of setting unrealistic deadlines to avoid procrastination and increase productivity.

The concept is this: Instead of giving yourself ample time to meet a goal or finish a project, setting an unrealistic deadline will help you actually get the goal or project done and likely increase the quality of it.

Think about all of those times in school when you had too much time to do something, whether it was writing a paper or studying for an exam, and you didn’t even get started on it until a couple of days before it was due.

If your professor decided not to tell you about the exam until a couple of days prior, you would likely have done just as well on it, if not better. The time constraint may have focused your efforts in on studying only the relevant material.

The concept of setting these types of deadlines strips away the time you would have otherwise spent procrastinating and gives you only the bare amount of time that it takes to get the job done.

It also removes the period of unfocused and counterproductive analysis, planning, and questioning. When you have very little time to complete the project, you are forced to do good work in less time.

Take my travel savings goal, for example. Since I have such a long deadline, I could be spending these months strategizing about how I might cut back on my expenses and make extra money. I might be analyzing a budget to ensure that I will be on track, and questioning whether I should have set the goal at $11,000 or given myself a couple more or less weeks to reach it.

Are any of these things productive? NO! I might tell myself that they are productive, since I am engaging in these activities as a result of the goal, but they are just another distraction, pulling my focus away from the goal itself and helping me procrastinate in actually doing the important work.

How to Set an Unrealistic Deadline (And How to Know When It’s Unrealistic Enough)

Unrealistic deadlines are difficult to set, because you will likely want to default back on going easy on yourself. Ask yourself this, without lying to yourself to get out of making real progress:

If this was a work project or objective, and my boss told me I had to reach it in [x] amount of days or I would lose my job, would the deadline be too close for comfort and make me get my butt into gear right away?

If the answer is no (and be honest with yourself) then bump the deadline up.

If the answer is yes, then give yourself a very small amount of time extra (ie if your deadline was in a week, give yourself a week and one day).

If the deadline is too unrealistic, you’ll be paralyzed in inaction because of fear. We need to have a tiny bit of time to procrastinate, before setting ourselves into motion. This helps us strategize, gather our thoughts, and focus ourselves.

Raise your self-standards, and set a deadline that sounds a bit crazy. Don’t join the masses of people who set deadlines that are solidly average and struggle to meet them.

What Have You Talked Yourself Out of Lately?

September 17, 2014 Permalink

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an author when I grew up.

I poured over books as a child, bringing them grocery shopping with my mom, to school, and to every corner of the house. I read when I was walking, when I was supposed to be learning in school, and with a flashlight under the covers in bed.

I’d bring a book with me when we went anywhere, and, while driving home in the darkness of the suburban night, would gobble up the words on the pages as we passed under a streetlight or even the dim, flickering glow of a store sign.

Words were, and still are, my passion.

I believe that words are one of the most powerful forms of currency. We exchange them, sometimes meaninglessly but more often with purchase. What humans say can impact individuals and entire nations. Our words can build somebody up or take them down. Words can be feared, enjoyed, and are often celebrated.

This isn’t about my love of words, however.

This is about the way in which we talk ourselves out of our dreams.

Perhaps inspired by my love of books or my fascination with literature and written communication, my love of reading translated into a love of writing. When I was eight, I wrote a children’s book called Pigs in Peanut Butter, which rhymed completely and was a story about the fair treatment of animals (another passion). I handed it in to my Grade 5 teacher who spoke to my parents about taking the story to a publisher. This was short lived, as my little family moved away.

Middle school made writing dorky, so instead of journaling my frustrations with my clique, my parents or my crushes, I gossiped about them with my friends. Any writing that I did do, I did in secret. I had dozens of short stories saved on my mom’s desktop computer, and dozens more in my head, but I hid my affinity for writing to fit in.

Still, while waiting in a lineup or during “quiet time” at school, I would make up stories in my head and itch to write them down.

As I got older, I still wanted to become an author, but saw a pattern in the way the world viewed creatives. I was urged to go to school, to get a degree in something useful, something that would make me employable, and leave my writing as a hobby.

I stretched myself to leave that small part of who I was aside, to adapt to the demands of society and it’s norms.

Whereas I was an imaginative, creative, and bookish child, I pushed myself to become an analytical, practical, and detail oriented adult; these are skills I was told you needed to excel in a corporate environment. I do have a great deal of skills that come in handy in business, and enjoy flexing them, but I’m most comfortable communicating in some form or another.

Children are impressionable and gullible, but adults are self-sabotaging.

I had a conversation recently with a friend who I’ve known for my entire life: “I remember when you wanted to be an author when you grew up! What happened to that?”

The conversation pushed me to consider what actually did happen to that dream.

I didn’t fall out of love with writing.

I didn’t somehow lose my ability to write.

It wasn’t just a silly childhood notion, like my dream of becoming a mermaid.

What actually happened to my dream of becoming an author was that I talked myself out of it.

Now that I am long removed from the pressures of fitting in and choosing my career path and the potential failure to launch had I chosen wrong, the only thing that is holding me back from doing what I want is my mind.

I’ve convinced myself that I no longer have an interest in writing. I’ve convinced myself that I grew out of my creativity when I grew out of my Sweet Valley High books, and that authoring anything is no way to make a decent living. I’ve told myself that I am too busy with my day job and my side businesses to write anything worthwhile, anyway.

These are all of the excuses that I’ve created in my head, none of which are true or valid, that are preventing me from being something that I’ve always wanted to be:

A writer.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to start writing a book. Not now and perhaps not ever. The world has changed and I’ve adapted to it; there are plenty of ways to be creative besides authoring a novel. Bloggers can be writers too, and freelancers and people who just write for fun.

We our own worst enemy when it comes to reaching goals or realizing dreams or even just being the type of person who sits down and creates something or does something they love every day.

We talk ourselves out of things which, in our heart of hearts, we would still love to be able to do or at least further explore. We are scared or discouraged or out of practice, and without knowing it, we talk ourselves out of these things that were once important to us.

The craziest thing is that we even believe the nonsense our fear and discouragement is feeding us about not wanting to reach the goal anymore.

So think about it – what dreams have you squashed or hobbies have you given up because you feared failing at them? What excuses have you made to feed your discouragement?

What have you talked yourself out of lately?

Cutting Out Information Overload & Focusing On Things that Improve Your Life

August 26, 2014 Permalink

A couple of months ago, I signed into my Rogers account to see why my phone bill was double that of what it usually is.

The answer was simple: I had gone over my monthly data allotment twice over.

I had a lot of data, and never even once came close to going over, so I knew there was an issue. I phoned Rogers and they sent me a log of all the data I had used each day for that billing period.

I know that I spend a lot of time on my phone, but even so, I was shocked by just how much.  I saw that even separate from the incident that resulted in my high bill (something uploading overnight), I use the data on my phone a disgusting amount.

I use data for a variety of different reasons: Google Maps, social media, email, and of course as a time killer. I have spent more time than I would like to admit browsing the  “What’s Hot” section on Buzzfeed.

What I didn’t realize until I got that report, was that I am usually using the data on my phone to obtain information that is of no use to me, and that does not align with my values.

make decisions that improve your life

At best, my cell phone data ads little benefit to my life. At worst, it’s a tool used for procrastination and the nursing of an unhealthy dose of “FOMO” (fear of missing out).

I found myself checking my Facebook when I was at dinner with a friend, reaching for my phone on date nights when I should have been focusing on J, and (in the interest of full disclosure) even checking my email at red lights.

As I sit down to write for Add Vodka, I find my thumb dragging the slider across the screen of my iPhone, a mindless reaction to a pause in my thoughts or a moment of difficulty articulating something.

I came to the realization that I was paying an extra $40 per month for something to distract me and fill my mind with clutter.

After coming to this realization, I pushed the glaring evidence out of my mind, and save for the occasional gut feeling that I needed to get rid of the damn data, I forgot about it.

I spent the next few weeks falling back into old bad behaviours, my phone always at my fingers, social media always at my beck and call.

A couple of weeks ago I sat there with my phone in my hand, scrolling through Twitter, annoyed at the lack of quality tweets of some of the people I follow. I switched to Facebook and became quickly annoyed with that, too. Then I realized: I wasn’t annoyed by the people I follow on either social media site. I was annoyed because Facebook and Twitter and 98% of the information gleaned from the apps on my phone and the data that I use is filling my brain with crap that I don’t need to know and never really wanted to know.

This useless information was nudging out the space for the stuff that I do want to know and learn, leaving little room for the information that I should be focusing on: information which will help propel me forward and on which I can take action. Information that will contribute to my living a positive, healthy life.

In short, having data on my phone was making my life worse, even marginally.

I try to run all of my decisions through this simple test:

“Will this decision improve my life, have a neutral effect, or make my life worse?”

And for me, inarguably, the empty information obtained through my phone and the distraction and procrastination it provided pushed the data plan into the “worse” category.

Data is not inherently evil, but I wasn’t using it in a positive way.

It’s hard to change a habit, so instead of trying to restrain myself from checking Twitter every half an hour, I decided to cancel my data plan on my phone.

I realize that it is fairly rare that a female member of the Generation Y population – especially a blogger – exist without a data plan on her phone, but I still have WiFi at home.

This is taking effect September 1, which is the beginning of the next billing cycle. It will be easy at first; I’ll be on my honeymoon until early-mid October, where I will have no use for data.

Where I think I’ll likely struggle is planning ahead. I rely on Google Maps to get me where I need to go, and I rely on my phone for price comparisons, coupons, and other things when I am out and about. In the end, that is a small hurdle to improve my life and a good habit to get into, regardless.

Information overload is a problem in our society and it leaves little room for making important decisions and important information. Instead of trying to beat the system and show some serious restraint, I’m cutting the source of much of it from my life.

(Shout out to Cait for her recent post about pushing past clutter and James Clear for his not so recent post about information overload for giving me that extra push to cut out the intellectual clutter)