Time Management: How Efficient Are You?

Had an interesting experience with TIME this week. Late Tuesday afternoon I went into my spam folder, looking for an e-mail I thought might be there. While scrolling through the list, I found a writing assignment that had been sent to me on Friday. I'd known the assignment was coming but thought maybe the editor had just gotten bogged down and that's why it hadn't been sent.

I opened the assignment only to find that the 800-word article was due the next day. YIKES. I e-mailed the editor, explained what had happened and asked if I could have until Thursday/Friday to turn the piece in. Luckily, he was fine with that. 

So yesterday I had two free hours in which I pounded out some research. Then last night I came home and, in about 2 more hours, drafted a pretty close to final version of the piece. I'm going to re-read it this morning and add in some SEO content, but I'm pretty close to done. All told, I will have spent maybe 5 hours on this piece.

What fascinates me is that I know if I'd received the assignment on Friday, I would have spent double and probably triple the hours on it -- for the same result. I would have dragged the research out over a couple of days, taken my time over the draft, sighed and fretted about how the piece was coming together, before turning in something remarkably similar to what I will send off today.

I am definitely one of those people that use the time given to me. If I have a month to complete something, it takes me a month. If I have a day to do the same task, it takes me a day. I work to deadline.

The trick I have yet to figure out is how to create artificially short deadlines so I don't meander over work. I remember Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek saying that it's a waste of time to start any project too far in advance. For example, if you have a big presentation to give at work, even if you pull it together early, you're still going to review and sit with it intensely in the 24-48 hours leading up to the actual event - so why not just wait and do the work once, right before the event when it counts most? (I'm paraphrasing.) It takes courage to trust yourself to pull something together but that's not a huge issue for me. I've yet to ever miss a deadline (spam folder e-mail assignments excluded). 

Do most of you drag projects out to fill in the time allotted for them or are you pretty good at only doing the work that needs to be done and then moving on? Feel free to share your tips and advice.