Pallavi Pinakin believes that procrastination is due to the planning fallacy

It’s time we admit it; most of us are natural procrastinators! Sure, there are those rare people who seem to tick every item on their to-do list ahead of time but the rest of us are past masters at delaying things until the last possible minute – even if we don’t mean to!

Think about how often you find yourself wasting time on social media, extending teatime chats endlessly or simply daydreaming at your desk when you should be working…

And then as the deadline looms, panic sets in. The details fall through the cracks, quality suffers and stress levels skyrocket. If you’re lucky, you might just make it to the finish line in time. If not, the deadline passes by, and you’re left feeling sheepish and looking unreliable.

In an ideal scenario, deadlines should inspire and motivate us. Unfortunately for most of us, they simply conjure up feelings of dread and worry. As the impending date and time approach, we wonder why we didn’t complete the task while we had time.

Perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone!

Human beings have a psychological tendency to underestimate how long it will take them to complete a certain task. This is known as the planning fallacy. The brain’s insistence on being unrealistically optimistic can upend your best intentions and make it tough to get things done on time. The good news is that this obstacle can be overcome by some thought and planning to meeting deadlines. Here are some suggestions with which to begin.

BREAK IT DOWN Let’s say you need to have Project A completed by a certain date. It’s not sufficient to simply write ‘Complete Project A’ in your diary and leave it at that. Such an approach provides no clarity on where to begin the work nor how long it will take.

So Project A needs to be broken down into a series of interim steps, each with its own deadline – preferably beginning right away. Not only does this force you to think about all the different components involved but helps you to stay on track. A mega project with a far-off due date is easy to put off while a specific task that needs to be completed by tomorrow is much more likely to be accomplished.

LINE UP PRIORITIES Have you ever spent endless hours figuring out the perfect font or best-looking borders for a presentation, only to be left with little time at the end for the most important and relevant content?

While creating a timeline of mini tasks, ensure you have your priorities in order. Schedule the key segments of your project earlier even though they may be more arduous and time-consuming than the fun stuff. Leave the gilding and gloss for the end – and wanting to reach this phase will also inspire you to stick to the plan.

BE ACCOUNTABLE This is especially relevant for those who work in relative independence without much oversight. With no one looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to lapse into complacency so keep tabs on yourself and create a sense of urgency.

HIGH VISIBILITY Give your action plan high visibility. Keep a printout on your desk, place sticky notes on your computer or set regular reminders on your smartphone. Towards the end of each day, ask yourself whether you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. If not, figure out why. Was it because other urgent things came up? Or did you simply procrastinate?

If it was the latter, hold yourself accountable – skip your evening plans and complete the pending task. And a couple of self-imposed late nights in the office will make you think twice before you spend time browsing those shopping websites at work!

TREAT YOURSELF Along with being your own policeman, you must also be your own cheerleader! Identify the dullest and most difficult tasks on your timeline and come up with a reward system for completing them as planned. For instance, think: ‘If I finish Task A on time, I will give myself an extra coffee break tomorrow or buy that new shirt I’ve been eyeing.’

Incentivising works… and who says you need to wait for someone else to come up with the right motivator?

BUILD A BUFFER It’s great to set realistic goals and come up with step-by-step plans that will take you a long way towards meeting deadlines. But it’s also crucial to keep things real. Things will come up, situations will change and people will fail to deliver on time… That’s life.

This is why many time management experts suggest including a buffer zone in your plan of action. For example, if your project is due on the 20th of the month, plan to complete it by the 13th as this allows you an additional week to cover for any time that’s lost due to emergencies or unforeseen delays.

In a best-case scenario, you’ll be done early (meaning ahead of your deadline), which means more time for adding the finishing touches… or simply more free time!