Last-minute management vs. first-minute management

To do a task in last minute is … addictive. You possibly knew—deep in your heart—that things should not be done this way. But time and time again, you ended up doing so. And there are many reasons of doing things in the last minute. Some people do it simply because they like to procrastinate (their slogan is ‘if it can be done later, why do it now?’), some do it because the last minute is when the inspiration kicks in, and some others do it because they are caught up in a very limited time constraint. In most cases, though, it is a combination of the three: a pinch of procrastination, an ounce of inspiration, and a bucket of time constraints. To do things last minute is thrilling, exciting, and energizing precisely because the sheer time limit that we are faced with. Retrospectively, you feel elevated (or elated?) when you made it through ‘the eye of a needle’. Life couldn’t be much more alive than being in those moments.

But to be successful in doing things last-minute relies on one important assumption: no bottleneck. I have been practicing this last-minute management (henceforth referred as LMM) since quite some time and, I have to say, I wish I am becoming less so today. Why? Because it is very risky. When LMM fails, it is devastating. You don’t have a second chance. The cost is unimaginable. I have been in that position too.

To do LMM you must make sure (or at least assume) that everything that leads to the delivery of your work is working well. If we are talking about submitting a paper, then these things range from the internet connection, the computer, the electricity, and of course, time itself. A single disruption on these technical elements may lead to a failure of your LMM work. And when there is a disruption, you have to prepare an alternative route to compensate for that. The worst thing is you never know which part of those elements will cause you trouble. You have to consider yourself lucky when everything works well in the end.

So there is a big risk that lurks around when you do LMM. Fortunately, there is an alternative for LMM: first-minute management. As the name suggests, first-minute management (henceforth referred as FMM) deals with the work at the earliest moment. How is it different from LMM? I will provide you a summarized list down below.

Comparison between LMM and FMM

Comparison between LMM and FMM


First-minute or last-minute?

As you can see above, LMM differs fundamentally from FMM in their worldview (in the table I use the word ‘paradigm’ rather loosely to refer to worldview). In LMM, the basic worldview is that life is always unstable. Things are in a constant state of change so that the best way to deal with it is by leaving it until the very last minute. Critics of this approach may argue that people implementing LMM are simply procrastinators. This is not entirely true. LMM can be used strategically as last-mover advantage. By delaying actions until the end of the timeline, you can spend more time to observe what is happening in the environment and use them as inputs for your actions later—with an extra twist that no one expects.

On the other hand, doing LMM may cost you your health. As your equilibrium is heavily punctuated at the end of the timeline, you may experience drastic disruption in your routine. Much less sleeping hours, long-hour work, disrupted meal time. All while being exposed to risk of failing: that you won’t be able to survive the deadline. But once you succeed, you will feel a huge relief as if you just managed to escape death. Either way, your body and mind will experience utter exhaustion. You’re just so tired, and it feels even worse when you fail.

In FMM, however, the worldview puts emphasis on the momentum-like nature of action. Using the field of physics as a metaphor, the best way to move an object is right after the impact. Therefore, proponents of FMM do things early because it is the way to get more energy. So they do the work at the earliest time and see where it will bring them. For them, it is impossible to have full knowledge of everything—hence it would be a waste to wait until last minute! They are among the believers of ‘start early, learn early’.

On the flip side, there are at least three things that you have to be aware of in practicing FMM. First, the doers of FMM may be exposed to risk when there is a change of rules or important information that may render your work useless/unusable. While LMM practitioners might be less affected by such change (they haven’t started anything anyway), FMM practitioners have to redo their work. Of course, FMM doers learn from what they have done, but the energy is wasted while the momentum might be gone already. Second, because FMM relies heavily on first-impact momentum, the discipline to maintain this momentum is crucial. If the momentum is lost, the work will be ‘cold’ and FMM may eventually turn into LMM. Third, the proponents of FMM have to sacrifice their (imagined) free time. This is what LMM doers find difficult to give up. To do things at first minutes means that you have to do what needs to be done, not what you want to do (notice the difference in emphasis, the former is rational while the latter is emotional/irrational). You may know that you have to do work A, while you actually want to read your favorite book. To do FMM requires persistence and discipline—and I have to admit, I am still far from this.


Is FMM, then, superior to LMM? It would be difficult to argue against that. As for me, coming from the realm of LMM, I can say that there are substantial benefits in applying FMM. Your life may be more organized, you may maintain your health better, you may learn much more and much earlier. But this is not to say that LMM is the bad guy—my personal experience have proven that some of my LMM works deliver better quality relative to the average. It is the cost after doing LMM (read: after passing the deadline) that concerns me. LMM can’t keep up with simultaneous deadlines while FMM gives room for doing what comes first. My advice for those who are currently practicing LMM, I recommend you to do FMM on one of your projects. See it yourself how things are different (or similar). And then you can decide what would work best for your style of doing the work.