You nearly always manage to finish projects, somehow. You’re rushed at the end, flush with adrenaline and glowing with frantic, frenetic energy. Yet somehow you do finish and usually with minutes—or even seconds!—to spare. You pride yourself on this ability. “I work best under pressure,” you say.
You are amazing—but you’re also fooling yourself.
If this sounds like you, here’s the truth: you don’t work best under pressure. No one does. You just work very hard, right at the end compressing the amount of work you have to do into a very short period of time. It’s an illusion. It makes you feel you’re super-human. It’s exhilarating. Even fun. But it isn’t desirable.
The quality of your work suffers, along with your mental and physical health. Those around you suffer too. You, my friend, are a procrastinator, and you’re not alone. We’ve all been there.
If we have two hours to complete a project, we complete it in two hours. If we have two days, we take the entire two days. We do 80% of the work during the last 20% of our time. And it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that having more time—a lot more time!—is better.
Lessons from the Runway
During the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine, my family and I watched dozens of episodes of Project Runway, where clothing designer-contestants compete for the opportunity to show their collections at New York Fashion Week. Each episode, they must create a new outfit. They’re told how much time they have at the beginning of each challenge, but often they’re still hand-sewing, pinning—or even gluing!—their garments moments before their models strut out onto the runway.
But sometimes the show’s producers throw a more organized contestant into the mix. We suspect they do this for the drama it causes.
As time runs short, and while the other contestants are literally running back and forth from the sewing room to their waiting models, cursing or crying with pins in their mouths and unfinished garments in their hands, this one organized contestant remains sanguine, calmly chatting with the other contestants or even catching a catnap or a bite to eat.
Invariably, the other contestants look upon this individual with a mixture of envy, resentment, or even suspicion. As the producers must know, it’s pretty funny, but it also got me to thinking. The same pattern happens in almost every episode: the organized contestant stays organized, and the disorganized contestants—you guessed it!—stay disorganized. Episode after episode.
Why does this happen?
Slow and steady wins the race.
We weren’t surprised to see that, over many episodes, the contestants who created a written plan right at the beginning of their work time were usually the ones with extra time at the end. Because they had a plan and always knew what to do next, they were able to work steadily all the way through, instead of working in bursts with wasted time in between.
Dr. Timothy Pychyl, an expert in procrastination at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada says:
Have you ever heard of dopamine? It’s a chemical our brains manufacture. It “gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure” when we achieve goals. It “motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs.” Low levels of dopamine, on the other hand, are linked to “procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm.”(2)
So, when we procrastinate, we feel bad about our selves, and when we feel bad about ourselves, we procrastinate. It’s a vicious circle. But if we give ourselves a little jolt of dopamine, that can break the circle. And we can do that just by setting a small goal and achieving it.
Small is the Key
“Break big goals down into little pieces,” writes Dr. Pychyl, “rather than only allowing our brains to celebrate when we’ve hit the finish line,” and “we can create a series of little finish lines which releases dopamine.” (1)
And that, my procrastinating, frantic friend, is why OrderlyBee works so well. We break down your household tasks into small, concrete bites, so you always know what to do next. That’s how I learned to stop rushing around feeling frantic, yet getting little done. And that’s how you can too.