First Minute-itis

Some of us pick up the habit in college: we have two or three months to write a term paper and figure, “Oh, I’ll have plenty of time for that.” Then we get to a point a week or two before the due date before we realize, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got a 20-page paper to write!” We then spend the next 7-10 days racing around the library, freaking out.

Not going to lie: I had those moments. However, I started learning a few things about that approach when I got to the business world and was forced to juggle multiple projects at once:

  • You will always have less time than you think.
  • Priorities will shift.
  • The requirements for the task could change, and if you haven’t done anything yet, you might find yourself playing catch-up sooner than you thought.
  • Other work will come in that will affect your ability to devote time to the big project with the later deadline.
  • I don’t enjoy the stress that comes with doing things at the last minute.
  • Last-minute work usually is cranked out in a slapdash fashion due to rushing or sheer panic. In short, you’ll make more mistakes.

Those points stated, I was probably in my 30s before I learned to discipline myself to dive into a project as soon as possible. Part of this was simply because my work started interesting me more. Part of it was that engineering data doesn’t have a long half-life in my brain. As a result, I learned to start processing my notes for a new assignment as soon as I got back to my desk. There are several advantages to this approach:

  • The information is still fresh in my mind.
  • While I’m processing my notes, I can also make notes on my approach, format, and timeline.
  • Again, while the information is fresh, I can start drafting some text to prime the pump and save myself from having to recall information or go back to the subject matter expert/manager to repeat.

Now I know there are probably folks who thrive on being “miracle workers” who can crank out last-minute prose by the volume in record time. But I’ve got to ask: how good is that work? How high is your blood pressure? What do your managers, peers, or customers say about your work?

Some of you might love the creativity that the stress of the last minute brings to your work. My creativity doesn’t work that way. Panic is a great way to make my brain freeze up or, as I noted earlier, make mistakes. I like striking while the iron is hot.

This is not to say you can or will never do last-minute work. That’s what “emergencies” are all about. Still, there is no reason that all of your work needs to be delivered in that fashion unnecessarily. So pick your metaphor, but give some thought to taking action on assignments when you first get them rather than waiting until near the deadline before starting work. Your peers and your body will thank you.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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