“I usually wait until the last minute to start work.”

Postponing action on something we need to do can have complex emotional roots. But in addition to the emotional roots, I’ve found the following reasons behind this organizational style.

1. Cliff Hangers estimate their time inaccurately. They have difficulty understanding the inflexible nature of time. they can visualize the final result of a project, but they fail to think about how long it will take to achieve that result. Therefore they seldom plan for things going wrong or being more difficult than anticipated.

2. They thrive on stress. Some Cliff Hangers look forward to adrenaline surges – and the push this gives them to meet a commitment just in the nick of time. They enjoy living in the pressure cooker climate that accompanies a last-minute frenzy, and they like the high produced by the adrenaline their body releases. When CHs are able to control this adrenaline-sparked stress, they often can come through and avoid disaster. When stress is overwhelming, however, and fraught with anxiety, it can cause real problems.

3. They think they need pressure in order to perform. The “I work best under pressure” belief causes many CHs to put things off because they’re convinced they need to feel pressure – from themselves or from someone else in order to do their best work.

4. They believe they need to wait for inspiration. Unfortunately, you can’t schedule inspiration so you need to create the conditions that are conducive to its presence.

When you repeatedly wait until the last minute to start major tasks and projects, you run an ever-increasing risk that you’ll turn in substandard work or even miss your deadline completely. However, if you enjoy the surge of adrenaline that comes with Cliff Hanging, you can learn to avert the eventual inevitable disaster by doing the following:

1. Break down a job assignment and figure out the steps required to reach the end point of the job. Then estimate the time each individual step will take. This is often called “backwards scheduling”.

2. Monitor your time as you work. By doing this you will be able to redesign time frames if necessary whenever you add new items to your To Do List. Simultaneously, monitoring will provide gratification as you count up the number of concrete hours you’re actually working toward your goal. It will also help you see that you’re making insufficient progress if, say, you’re only spending an hour a week on a goal that will take forty hours.
3. Recognize and reward yourself for the attainment of mini-goals as you go along.
4. Periodically revise your Master To Do List to make sure that you aren’t putting off the really critical items. If you stay in touch with your priorities, you can procrastinate “safely” by only delaying the less significant items.

Because of its deep emotional roots, Cliff Hanging can be difficult to work with at times. But every success that you achieve in restructuring negative Cliff Hanging habits will reduce the stress and attendant problems in your life and enable you to live with this style in a positive and productive way.

The rest of this series can be found starting here, along with the Styles of Space Management beginning here. I’d be happy to answer any questions, or you can refer to more detailed explanations and examples in How To Be Organized In Spite Of Yourself.

4 Responses to "Style of Time Management: (5) The Cliff Hanger"

  1. Smiler

    April 20, 2008

    Oh my, do I ever recognize myself here. Another thing about Cliff Hanging is if you fall, you get burned. As in… burnt out. I’ll be back to read “Perfectionist Plus”.

  2. sunny

    April 20, 2008

    Hi Smiler! Hmnn…Cliff Hanging plus Perfectionism is not the most relaxing of combinations. 😉

  3. Debra

    May 2, 2008

    This isn’t “Cliff Hanging”… this is journalism!!!!
    I can’t produce a word without the rush of adrenaline created from the doom of an approaching deadline. “Do or die” is the only thing that keeps me writing! Otherwise I’d just play all the time.
    Inside every Cliff Hanger, there’s someone who would really rather goof off all day.
    Or shop.
    For more stuff that would look so cute sitting by the TV.
    🙂

  4. sunny

    May 2, 2008

    Debra – I love your take on things. Well, then, thank goodness for Cliff Hanging or we wouldn’t have your wonderful columns to enjoy! 😉

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