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We are all familiar with procrastination. I was a pro procrastinator in school. I actually found that I couldn’t write a paper if I had too much time to do it. I couldn’t get in the head space and I’d distract myself in any way possible to avoid it. But, if it was the night before it was due, I could crank it out quickly. I guess I’ve always been one who works well under pressure.
It makes sense that we put off doing things we don’t want to do. Because we don’t want to do them. We’ll find anything else to do to avoid things like admin work and bookkeeping. Or around the house, it’s things like cleaning or fixing that broken chair. We’d rather spend our time doing the things we enjoy. That’s pretty much common sense.
Procastination isn’t always a conscious choice.
I don’t think procrastination is always a conscious choice, though. Sometimes we don’t actively think, I’m going to put this off. Instead, we do other things and never quite get around to it. I may have been without working hot water in one of my bathroom sinks for almost 2 years. I wasn’t intentionally not getting it fixed. I just didn’t make the call because I didn’t think about it in the right moment. It sounds ridiculous, I know. And I’d love to say that I ultimately realized that and called a plumber, but I did not. My friend sometimes lets me borrow her husband for handy work, and she sent him over one day to fix it for me. It was such a simple thing and I laughed at myself for letting it go that long. It just hadn’t been important to me because the cold water still worked and there was another sink next to it that worked fine.
But sometimes we have to put off doing things we actually want to do because we have other priorities. Time gets away from us and there is only so much we can do. So when we don’t have time to do everything, something has to give. For most of us, that usually means our personal projects get put on the backburner while we’re tending to paying clients. Other times it means letting things pile up because they don’t make an immediate impact. You know you need to scan those receipts so you can add them into your accounting software, but you’re not going to miss out on a new job because you haven’t done that yet.
Work ahead now so you don’t fall behind later.
I recently found myself in a place where I’m sure you’ve been before. I overcommitted. I was already juggling multiple projects when a new opportunity came my way. I had turned down a couple of other jobs during the same time, but this one was more appealing. It was for a major brand, there was a celebrity involved, and it was a new client looking to build a team in Vegas, where he will be relocating soon. I knew some other people on the job and like working with them, and I got a really good vibe from the client. I was up front about my prior commitments, and we worked out a schedule that made sense for both of us.
I knew it would be a busy couple of weeks, but I knew I could handle all of it. I would never sign up for a job if I thought I couldn’t deliver, so I want to be clear about that. My definition of overcommitting doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to 30 hours a day and am going to have to sacrifice sleep to get it all done. To me, it means that work might infringe upon my typical boundaries in terms of my normal hours, but within reason. Because I do prioritize my down time, I wouldn’t have said yes if the new project was going to push too much into the evenings or weekend. Based on the information I had, it was all manageable.
Of course, by some twisted fate it seems the universe, which is normally on my side, conspired against me. Every one of those projects became chaotic and took up way more time than intended. They were billable hours, so that wasn’t an issue, but it made it impossible to do the other things I had wanted to do during that time. It all worked out, as it always does, but by the end of last week I was just laughing about the whole thing. That’ll teach me to say yes to a job when I know I don’t really have the time. I say that now, but despite the craziness, I’m still glad I took on that project. I would make the same choice again.
During that time, I did have moments of feeling the pressure. It felt like every time I got one thing done, there were 4 more in its place to do. I really had to rely on my prioritization skills to make sure everyone had what they needed from me in a timely manner. I made sure to meet all of my client obligations, but I didn’t end up with any time to work on my personal projects like this podcast. And I like working on this podcast.
We had a discussion about time management during one of our weekly Clubhouse chats and I mentioned what was going on. I said that the reason I wasn’t freaking out about it is because I always work ahead when I can. That’s what I’m calling anticrastination. When I have some free time, I use it to do the things I know I might not have time for later. That’s not to say I don’t take advantage of some quiet time when I get it, because it is pretty rare sometimes and I think it’s important to take a day or two to not be productive when the opportunity arises. But, when I do get a break, I have to consider the best ways to use it.
Make use of the down time when you have it.
When the Vegas season of Intervention ended, I suddenly had a lot of extra time that I hadn’t had for 7 months. I enjoyed have time to just breathe and take it easy. But, then I also started thinking about all the things I hadn’t been able to do during that time. My top priority in my personal projects is this podcast. I did not like the feeling of scrambling to get an episode done in time. I’ve never missed a publishing date, but there were a few close calls. So I thought about which parts of the podcast take the most time, and those are obviously the longer interview episodes. So I started scheduling interviews. I think I recorded 5 in about a week. As of now, I haven’t even edited all of those episodes, which means my plan worked. Because during those crazy weeks, there’s no way I would’ve had time to fully produce a new interview episode. But because I recorded in advance, I never missed a deadline.
I didn’t know how long that break would be, so I didn’t want to waste it. I’m really glad I recorded those interviews. As it turned out, the break would only be 3 weeks and then I started working on another show. 9 weeks passed by before I had an opportunity to record another interview. If I hadn’t worked ahead, I wouldn’t have been able to keep consistent releases, and I would’ve let myself down. Anticrastination for the win.
So how do you effectively anticrastinate? And by the way, I don’t think anticrastination is a word. The angry red squiggles in my Word document tell me it’s not. But I don’t care. You’ve probably learned that I make up words sometimes, and I’m okay with that.
How do you anticrastinate?
First, figure out what you can do early. Then, do it now. That’s it.
No one can predict the future, and most of us never really know when jobs are going to come up, which makes it difficult to prepare. The best thing you can do is think about the things you know will have to get done, and then determine which of those can be done in advance. Things like social media posts – you can create the graphics and write the captions and then either schedule the posts using an app, or at least get everything ready so all you have to do on the day is post. If you’re a writer, think of some evergreen pieces you can write early so you’ll have them available if you’re in a bind and don’t have time to write something new one week. If you’ve been wanting to take a class or work with a coach, schedule it as soon as possible and get started while you have the time.
Anticrastination is the opposite of putting things off. It’s doing them now. It’s taking advantage of the time you have right now to do things you might not have time for later. Instead of knowing you have things to do but you don’t want to do them, it’s knowing you’re going to have to do these things later anyway, so you might as well do them now when you’re not feeling pressured. Save yourself the stress and work ahead when you can. You’ll thank yourself later.