Why you don't *really* do your best work under pressure (and what to do instead)

I was born disorganized. I've struggled with procrastination my entire life. Er, rather, I've excelled at procrastination. What I've struggled with is starting projects on time.

Whether it’s creative endeavors or practical tasks, I am really good at leaving things to the last minute. (Packing for a trip at 1:00 a.m. while also baking two batches of cookies? Sure, why not!)

And I've learned that procrastination is a real bummer. 

Working "under pressure" makes you think you're doing your best when you're really not. 

Now you might have a different idea. You might want to say that the thrilling rush of adrenaline you get when you’re down to the wire is just the thing you need! It’s the fuel that propels you to jump into a project and give it your all.

And you would be right. Sort of. Yes, there is something magical about adrenaline! Our ancestors used it to run away from saber-toothed tigers, and we’ve all heard stories about mothers lifting cars off of their children with super-human strength thanks to this crazy chemical.

But while adrenaline is amazing for making you act (or react) in the moment, it’s pretty useless when you need to be careful, consistent, or creative. It is not your friend when you’re trying to write a cogent argument or revise your essay’s style.

As a lifelong procrastinator, I had a hard time admitting this, but doing things at the last minute doesn’t make us fierce adrenaline heroes; it just makes us miss out on the best possible outcomes!

It might be true that you can get something out by the deadline if you start the day before. It might even be decent. But if you’re turning in decent work that you did at the last minute, it means you could be turning in brilliant work if you started earlier!

There's nothing glamorous about slapping together a last-minute effort.

Here’s an example. Each year, I make a birthday book for my niece. Her birthday never changes, so I always know my due date. But somehow I always think there is plenty of time. So I wait. When it’s time to jump into action, I get all excited and start surfing that inevitable wave of excitement that comes from burning the midnight oil.  

Since I'm not so great with visual skills like drawing, painting, or collages, the illustrations are really hard for me! (At last count, my niece was 6, so pictures are non-negotiable.) Every year, I fantasize that I'll leave myself enough time to solve the illustration problem. I'll find an artist or illustrator, or I'll upload the text to a program that will allow me to add computer images and then print an actual book. 

But I never leave myself enough time. So each year, I'm back to doing "my best" with cheesy stick figures, Google images, and glue. When I'm done, I feel so relieved that I got something finished! I look at it and think, "Hey, that's pretty good!"

Until I give the book to my niece. By the time she opens it, I'm no longer in the adrenaline-crazed rush I was in when I created it. I look at the final outcome and feel a pang of regret and embarrassment. How could I have thought this looked even halfway decent?

Simple answer? When I was feverishly trying to finish the project by the deadline, my brain was in survival mode and its standards were a LOT lower! Think about all those reality shows about survival; those people will eat grubs and drink their own urine in order to stay alive. 

Most people have no idea how much better their work could be!

Think about it. If you always start projects late, you have never gotten to see what you're *really* capable of! And without this basis of comparison, there's very little motivation to change what you're doing.

So here's my challenge to you: start your next writing project on the day it's assigned!

I’m not going to try to convert you into a non-procrastinator in every realm of your life. If you’ve figured out exactly how many minutes you need to throw on yesterday’s clothes, brush your teeth, grab your backpack, and make it to school on time, I won’t bug you by suggesting you wake up earlier.

But when it comes to writing, see what happens when you start on time. I promise you that for ideas, planning beats pressure every time! With a little forethought, you can be turning in your best work on time—every time. 

Sound like magic? I promise you, it's not.

Because I am so BAD at getting things done on time, I had to really think through how to accomplish that task.  I had to break it down into steps and make a recipe. And because I didn't want to forget, I wrote down that recipe. And guess what? Now I want to give it to you!

If you're accepting my challenge, here is your FREE copy of the Procrastination Buster. This step-by-step guide will hold your hand through planning your next writing project. 

Will you accept the challenge? Tell me in the comments below!

Or share your own procrastination story--what's your worst ever "thought it was your best work at 2 am but not at 9 am" moment?