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The situation goes like so: big deadline one month from now. So I make some plan. But it gets too easy to procrastinate early on, to put one thing off, to allow a distraction here & there.

How can I really tackle it gradually>?

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6 Answers

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A couple ways I would do it:

1 way is to set intermediate deadlines. So in 1 week, you need to be 25% done, and in 2 weeks you need to be 50% done. You set the milestones depending on what kind of project is. So if it's a research paper, by week 1 you need to have the outline done. By week 2, you need to have a rough draft done, etc. When the first week comes around, you can evaluate what needs to be done in the coming weeks. To make it more interesting, you could make it a competition with colleagues who are working on the same project.

Another way is to just intensively focus 100% of your energy/available time as soon as you can, and try to finish as quickly as possible. This is something I realized in college. If I'm going to procrastinate and kill myself 3 days before it's due to try to finish it in the last minute; why not do the same thing in the beginning when it's first assigned? There's a few benefits from this:

  • You will realize how big the project it is in the beginning, and not when there is 3 days left.
  • You have plenty of time to get help if you need it, instead of trying to get help from people after-hours before the deadline.
  • If you finish it way early, you can work/concentrate on other stuff. (This is how I worked in college, I realized that I wasn't good at trying to work on multiple projects "1 hour a day". When I got stuff done, it was working in intensive chunks like this.)
  • When you have a big piece of the project done in a short amount of time, this motivates you to finish it quicker. This is in contrast to working on it for 1 hour in the beginning, procrastinating and then finally going intensive in the last few days. If you wait too long to work on something again, you have to refresh your memory on what you were working on and restart your train of thought.
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Agreed, set yourself deliverables along the way to make sure you stay on track. –  Raystafarian Mar 7 '12 at 18:14
    
Thank You So Much Atif, this is excellent. –  Adel Mar 8 '12 at 16:25
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In case you're into the concept of commitment devices...

The deadline itself is a commitment device but, as you've noticed, it doesn't commit you to making steady progress throughout the month. If you're a procrastinator by nature then you'll end up pulling all-nighters as the deadline nears. The idea of Beeminder is to turn a long-term commitment like the deadline in a month into a daily commitment: stay on this yellow brick road every day. Here's an example with weight loss but most Beeminder goals are actually for doing more of something, like spending time on a work project:

beeminder example graph

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Very interesting, Thank You Very Much! –  Adel Mar 13 '12 at 20:45
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This would be a good time to review Covey's Four Quadrants:

  • Q1: Important & Urgent
  • Q2: Important & Not-Urgent
  • Q3: Not Important & Urgent
  • Q4: Not Important & Not-Urgent

Seems you are in the sweet spot of Q2 and it could be helpful to understand what that means and why it's good, so perhaps you could do it more often.

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Thank You Very Much - Yes I will study Covey's 4 Quadrants! –  Adel Mar 8 '12 at 18:16
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I have a checklist of things that I want to get done for the day and I find there is something psychologically pleasing about checking the items off a list. You want to do the item just so you can get to check it off. If I have something that doesn't need to be done for a long time I will stack my items so that I cannot fail to complete the task of the day. Like if I have to write a report, my task for the day will be 'Write one sentence in the report'. It is so simple that you cannot fail to do it. Even if you stumble in the door drunk at some ungodly hour, you still have to write one sentence. What I find actually happens is that most days my one sentence turns into many more and the report is completed well before the deadline. The best part is that it never fells forced, the maximum I ever had to force myself to do was one sentence. If I really don't want to write more, just leaving it at the one sentence is fine. If you find that you never fall into writing more than one sentence, you really should question why you're doing the report in the first place. If you really hate it so much it might be time to get a different job or study something else.

Another technique I like to use is where I'll say that if I don't get my task done for the day I have to donate money to a charity that I don't agree with. This is a much more powerful motivator as I don't want to lose the money, and I really don't want to end up supporting those guys. http://www.stickk.com is a nice website that provides a framework for this kind of thing. Interestingly I also find that making it about giving money away is much more powerful than making it about buying yourself a treat. The only downside of this is that you end up feeling quite forced to do something against your will, and this can be quite zapping. It is almost as though you only have a finite amount of 'will' that you can use to force yourself into completing tasks you don't want to, and once this is used up it is extremely hard to focus. I'd try the first suggestion of a minimum daily effort before the more elaborate and forced options.

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Thank You So Much Brian, this is very helpful –  Adel Mar 8 '12 at 16:25
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I am trying to adapt this method described here. Simple idea, do something every day, don't break the chain, all the way until the project is due.

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JoesGoals.com would be perfect for this idea. –  Atif Mar 8 '12 at 5:24
    
@Atif: Great site, +1 for the link! –  Eugene Mar 8 '12 at 5:44
    
I Love it! Thank You So Much –  Adel Mar 8 '12 at 16:24
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If the weeks are uneventful - then I try and solve the problem by doing the work for the deadline in the uneventful weeks before it arrives - that way you are never really working up against (and worrying about) a deadline because you already did everything, for me that's what good time management is all about.

(obviously doesn't apply quite as well if the deadline is, for example, a big event you are putting on)

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