I know I procrastinate, but it’s for the benefit of my clients.  You see, I do my best work under pressure.  Have you ever said (or thoughts) something similar to this?

Today, I’m going to fulfill a promise I made a few weeks ago and talk more about procrastination.  (You can read the earlier posts here.) Let’s look closely at the myth, “I work best under pressure.”

A couple of months ago, a client (I’ll call her Sharon) told me, “I wish I could stop procrastinating because I really don’t like the feeling I get when I think I’m not going to finish a project on time.  However, I truly do my best work when I’m under pressure.”

So I asked her to expand.  When was the last time she procrastinated?  What were the results? What would she do differently?

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Here’s “Sharon’s” story:

I needed to prepare for a 3 hour workshop on a topic I had not presented previously.  I had many ideas, a lot of resources, and a great presentation in mind.  I tried 4 or 5 times over the course of 3 weeks to outline the presentation, create the PowerPoint, and pull together the supplemental materials, but each time I tried to create, I was just “stuck”.  I knew that I had the information, but I also knew the work wouldn’t be as good as it could be if I completed it last minute.  I really become inspired under pressure.

So 24 hours before the workshop, I locked myself in my office and finished the presentation – the timing, the exercises, the handouts, the PowerPoint, the content … everything.  Then I went to an all-night copy place at midnight and put together the resource packets.

The next morning, I presented a very well received and informative workshop at 8 am.

See, I do my best work under pressure . . . so why would I change?

At first glance, it seems like Sharon is correct, right?  The presentation was good.  She finished everything on time.  What more could she want?  I KNOW procrastination has some negative effects.  Yet, on the surface, this seems like a success story.  Heck, I was starting to believe she was the one person in the world who could procrastinate and get away with it!

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Then I asked two more questions . . .

  • How would she adapt the presentation if she gave it in the future?
  • What did she do the rest of the day?  Was she able to follow-up with attendees like she had planned?

Here is where the awareness (for both of us!) occurred.

Well, when I give the presentation in the future, I’ll adapt the timing. I definitely didn’t have enough time for the group activities.  In fact, I spent way to much time at the beginning introduction and wasn’t able to get to one of my big educational concepts.  Plus, I forgot to include a handout that would have really helped to clarify one of the concepts.

I suppose if I would have run through the presentation once, I would have realized the timing issue – and – the missing handout.  I just ran out of time to do a run-through.  If I only had 24 more hours . . .

As for following up with attendees.  After pulling an all-nighter putting together the resource packets, I went home and crashed.  In fact, I was so exhausted I overslept the next day and missed one of my kids’ sporting events.

Ahh . . . I see where you are going with this.  My work may have been inspired, but it certainly wasn’t my best work!  If I had allowed myself time for a run-through, I would have made some adjustments and presented a better workshop.  Plus, I’m not as young as I once was . . . missing sleep takes a toll!  Who would have thought procrastination is bad for your health too!  I feel like I do my best work under pressure … but really, this workshop was good, but it certainly wasn’t my BEST work.

What can I do in the future?

That’s a great question!  What can you do if you fall into the “I procrastinate because I do my best work under pressure” category?

I’ve written many (many, many, many, many) posts on how to overcome procrastination.  However, I haven’t written much about the solution my client decided to try.

Create a false deadline.

Back your deadline up 2 or 3 days.  If you project is due on Friday, act as if it is due on Wednesday.  Bolt yourself in your office on Tuesday and complete everything you need to complete.  Then use the “extra” two days to fine-tune.

I know, you are thinking, “Really, Lisa!?  Like I don’t know it’s still due on Friday?!  I’m not fooling anyone!”

So add some structure.  Enlist the support of someone to participate in a dry-run of the presentation.  Or have someone look over the finished project.  This gives you a REAL deadline to hit, which allows you the opportunity to still “do your best work under pressure,” yet you still have time to improve on the finished project AND get sleep.

Yes, you CAN balance that desire to push yourself with a deadline and the desire for a quality result. Enlisting the aid of a second (or third) party is that balancing point.

So how do YOU do it? Are you a “deadlines” kind of person or are you a planner? How do YOU handle projects like this? Comment Below!

Do you know there’s a better way but don’t know what it is? Reach out for some objective help!

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(Image credit jesadaphor)