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  • Jon Saft

Deadlines: Friend or foe?

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Procrastination is productivity's biggest enemy. We all know the feeling of staring at the same task at the top of your to-do list for days or weeks, knowing that it must get done eventually, but not today.


In Tim Urban's TED talk, Inside the mind of a procrastinator, he walks us through the science of procrastination. He takes us back to college all nighters, and he reminds us that for many of us, that was actually when we did our best work. Give me a month to write a 10 page paper, and I'll chip away at it piece by piece until it's a hodgepodge of random ideas. Give me a night, and I'll crank out a masterpiece.


Procrastination drives focus?


How could working all night produce better results that sustained work over a month? Because over the month, you will repeatedly shift context and perspective, but in your frenzied all-nighter, the distractions fade into the background. You have one goal, a single mission to finish the paper, and the genius immediately flows.


So by that logic, we should all push off everything on our to-do list until that last possible minute, right? Not so much.


Welcome to the Matrix


President Dwight D. Eisenhower is famous for many feats, but perhaps one of his greatest contributions was his simple task prioritization matrix:


Eisenhower split all tasks into four quadrants based on how important and urgent they were. If a task is urgent, it requires our immediate attention. A ringing phone is urgent. Importance, on the other hand, is a measure of impact. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, or your high priority goals.


It is very easy to confuse urgency for importance, but they are not the same. Most vital, however, is to avoid creating a false sense of urgency. Assigning a fake deadline to a task to create your "all nighter" mentality will eventually lead to unnecessary stress and burnout.


Be Like Ike


Instead of assigning arbitrary due dates to your tasks, just follow the instructions from Ike's matrix. Sometimes, tasks truly have deadlines. You have to file your taxes before April 15, you have to prep your presentation before next week's meeting. For these types of tasks, it is imperative that you assign a deadline and stick to it.


For all other important tasks, though, give yourself a break and stay away from stressful due dates. Instead, like the matrix prescribes, schedule a time block in your calendar to get it done. If you're not sure how long it will take, break it down into manageable chunks, then knock out one a time.


All-nighters, but on your own terms


Once you have your important tasks on your calendar, create your own all-nighter environment by blocking out all external distractions. Keep the distraction monster at a distance using some of our focus techniques, hone in, and knock out the task. If you don't finish in your scheduled time, no problem. Just update your schedule and block out additional time whenever you have some space in your calendar.


And the best part? If the phone rings and something truly urgent comes up, you've got plenty of time. No need to stress. T will be no teacher on the other side on the other side waiting for your paper.


#time_management #procrastination #mental_health

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