Why Don’t You Finish Early?

We live in a late world.

People are late.  Projects are late.  Planes are late.

And we accept it all.  Why?  Because we have been conditioned to it.

In fact, when something is on time.  It usually throws us off.  I recently saw a traveler yell at a customer service rep at the airport because they missed their flight because it left the gate, get this… “On Time!”

I previously wrote about being early to meetings and how being early actually saves you time. But what about the other things in life?  Shouldn’t we leverage being early on tasks, projects,and more?

When was the last time you were early?  When was the last time you finished something ahead of schedule?

Do You Finish Early?

Most people do not finish their work or tasks early.  Project extensions and lateness have become the norm in many workplaces.

Some people actually take pride in their “just before the buzzer” performance.  You will even hear them try to justify their lack of delivery.

“But, I work best under pressure…”

No, you don’t.

What you are saying is…

“That you don’t work well when you are not under pressure.”

You procrastinate.  You don’t plan ahead. You don’t get things done when you should.  And then you let the pressure and stress of failing make you complete your work.  Not a efficient method, nor healthy.

Here is something to try.  Want to scare the heck out of your friends, family or co-workers?  Want to upset them at the same time?  Take your next major project and finish it a good period ahead of the deadline.  Have a deliverable that everyone is your group has to do?  Finish yours about 5 days early.

It is that simple.

A College Story of Early

Once upon a time, I was an engineering student at the University of Virginia.  One of my classes had a semester-long design project that was due at the end of the course.  It required lots of design, computer CAD drawings, re-work and re-design.  The instructor gave it to us a few weeks into the semester and we had about 45 days to do it.

If I remember correctly, we got it on a Thursday afternoon.  I had no Friday classes that week.  So, I started working on it.  One thing lead to another and before I knew it, I had put in over 10 hours on that first day.

My friends came by and asked if I wanted to go out.  After all, it was Friday night.  Now, I was kind of a geek in college anyway, but I said, “No, I am going to stay in and work on this project.”  When one of my buddies saw what I was working on, he said, “What are you doing, we have the rest of the semester to do that thing?!?”

I said, “Yeah, but I am on a roll and I want to see how far I can get.”

I stayed in.  After many more hours, a Domino’s pizza, and many caffeinated beverages, I finally called it a night.

Saturday, I was right back at it.  I was blazing on this thing and was not going to stop.

Sunday I kept going.  I started to think that I might actually finish this thing.

Then, Sunday evening, after not having left my dorm room for almost 3 days, I finished the project.  I had done dozens of re-works and spent over 36 hours in 3 days.  But, I was done.  And you could say it was just a little bit ahead of schedule.

My friends started to find out and were upset.  And extremely jealous.

As the semester wore on, I started to hear a lot of stress from friends who had not yet started the project.  In the final weeks, I heard cries of despair from those who had waited until the last moment and now encountered problems they had not expected.

Even though I had buttoned up the project in my 3-day marathon, I did take the opportunity to review my work over the course of the semester and made minor cosmetic improvements.  By the way, I got an “A” on that project.

The Power of Early

There is tremendous power in finishing things early.  It should not be underestimated.  Some people think, “OK, so you finished early.  Now you can do some more work…”

However, it is much more powerful than that.  It has an almost exponential effect on your productivity and work results.  And no matter what the “last minute” people will tell you, it feels much better to be “ahead of the curve.”

What are your best experiences with getting things done early?

27 thoughts on “Why Don’t You Finish Early?

  1. Great article…just the encouragement I needed on this dreary Wednesday in Mobile, AL. Making it a goal to get a couple of things done early this month!!

  2. Great article…just the encouragement I needed on this dreary Wednesday in Mobile, AL. Making it a goal to get a couple of things done early this month!!

  3. As a person newly adopting GTD habits, this post is very timely and helpful in helping me see myself as a person who does things early. Thanks for the practical experiences you shared. Your reasoning adds needed repetition and emphasis to practices I embrace.

  4. As a person newly adopting GTD habits, this post is very timely and helpful in helping me see myself as a person who does things early. Thanks for the practical experiences you shared. Your reasoning adds needed repetition and emphasis to practices I embrace.

  5. Very good point being made in this post. Sadly, I am one of those late finishers and don't have a lot/any experience in finishing early.
    If I ever finished early, I would probably be wondering what to do now with all that time left.

  6. I think people sometime finish late, not only because of procrastination, but also to protect their job, and if they finish early, they would just get more work, or in case of contractor, their contract might stop earlier, so no income…
    Very difficult to find a good balance between this (for a lot of people), i don't have an issue with it


  7. Farouk, I agree with you.

    In fact, even worse…is that procrastination can be contagious! I have seen entire workplaces that contract it and then the company wonders why nothing gets done. 🙂

  8. Oliver, thanks for the comment.

    It seems that most people have become accustomed to finishing things last minute.

    It is very empowering and fulfilling to finish ahead of schedule. And to your point, allows you time to re-check your work.

  9. Excellent proposition and article, Craig, and one that I totally agree with.

    I use a system that is based on the idea of doing something when it 'shows up, not when it blows up'.

    It's based on the premise that, whatever you're given, start it the next day. then do it daily, until it's done.

    The important point to remember is that it's not about how much you do daily — it's the fact that you DO it daily.

    For example…

    Monday – given the project
    Tuesday – start
    Wednesday – work on it
    Thursday – work on it some more

    … and so on until it's done.

    This seems to work because you know what to do each day, but you choose how much to do. The 'do it daily' approach keeps the momentum going — the 'do what you like' angle reduces the resistance and degree of procrastination.

    Your example of from college was interesting because you blasted through the work and finished early.

    That's okay if there are acceptable consequences for not doing the other things in life.

    As a husband, father, teacher, webmaster and band member I choose to keep several plates spinning each day, so effective time management for me depends on my ability to know when to stop wotking on something as much as being able to start or continue.

  10. Great article! And so true. I am not the one who finishes everything ahead of time, but exceptions happened J. Back in college…many many years ago, I had a project that was two-parts. Part one was due at the end of spring semester and part two was due at the end of fall semester. I managed to finish my part one just on time for finals. One of my co-workers (I worked and studied at the same time) suggested that I should keep working on the project while it was still fresh. As I had a whole summer off and all materials for part two ready, I decided to follow the advice and keep working on it. I finished it by the first week of September. My college allowed to re-take finals in the first week of the next semester for those who didn't do well. I decided to give a try and came with my part two as well. I passed it with the highest mark. The professor asked which group I was and I told him. He was shocked. He had students with half-finished part one and here came someone with the fully finished project. He was impressed. The fall semester happened to be the hardest I had thru the college; however, the completed project saved my time and sanity.

  11. Better time management skills is one common characteristic of every successful people. Time management tips and techniques helps to save our time, increase our efficiency and productivity.

    Before we begin to manage our time, we must analyze our daily tasks to complete. To manage my time and tasks, Personally i use Replicon’s time recording software ( http://www.replicon.com/olp/online-time-recording-software.aspx ). It is an excellent software that helps businesses of all scales to function efficiently.

  12. I took a class in college with a professor that I had taken before, and I knew I would have a major paper to write and what the expectations would be. I had a light summer and access to resources, so I started researching it early in the summer. I took my time throughout the summer working on it, and into the semester. I had the paper completely finished two to three weeks before it was due, and extremely pleased with the result and the time that I put in to get it that way. It was probably the most relaxing paper I ever wrote!

  13. All interesting comments. I guess it does depend on the job at hand. I install cabinetry, and in all cases my completion time is set, say i am given 3 days to put a kitchen in, start monday , finish wednesday. I dont deside on 3 days, a group of sales people do, based on what they know of my abilities and thier own intuition. If i finish early, say tuesday late afternoon, this is very damaging, now my boss is scrambling to find me work for wednesday, and it throws thier intuition off for future schedualing. Also, many other trades come before me and after me. Now the site contractor sees me being done early, now hes pressuring the next trade to start early, but hes not ready, point is, if their is a schedual, with many moving parts involved, other departments, people, whatever, just be ontime. Dont fret about being early , just imagine, if everyone was ontime, no matter what it was??. We would all find capacity we never dreamed of. Just my thoughts

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