Procrastination is the one of the biggest enemies of accomplishment. When it comes to scheduling and taking certification exams, I know people who have constantly let procrastination get the better of them.

A ton of people have asked me for career advice over the year. I’ve mentioned that a good place to start to get traction is picking up a few certifications as a way of attesting to the skills they already have or to gain some structure when it comes to achieving skills they want.

Many of these people will tell me that they will take a certification. Yet they never get around to doing it. Some even get to the point of buying a study book, watching a Pluralsight course, or even going to instructor led training. 12 months later and they haven’t taken the exam.

Choosing to take exams

Part of this comes down to “who wants to voluntarily sit exams?”. When I explained to my teenager that even in my 40’s life still involved taking exams and submitting essays, he was aghast. The reality is that in today’s career environment, especially in IT jobs, you need to be able to demonstrate some continual external validation of your skills. Certification provides one method of achieving that goal.

So, how do you get some momentum going when it comes to getting certifications?

Picking up momentum

When I got started with my certifications, I learned that the best way to make myself study was to schedule an exam. Rather than study, figure out when I was ready, and then schedule the exam, I’d decide to do the exam, schedule the exam, and then start to study.

I picked up this trick from a poster on an old certification forum. When I was starting out, I spent six months preparing (overpreparing) to take Networking Essentials. I didn’t want to schedule the exam until I felt I was ready to take it. This meant that I kept putting it off. With my second exam, which was the NT4 Workstation exam, I took the forum poster’s advice and scheduled it immediately after I passed my networking essentials exam. Rather than taking six months to prepare, I gave myself six weeks.

An engineering professor of mine used to say “Necessity is the mother of invention. The father is a deadline.”

By following that method of scheduling the next exam as soon as I passed the previous one, I worked through my first MCSE in a couple of months. Then my second MCSE. I even did some Cisco, Oracle and Linux certifications.

The benefit in scheduling an exam is that you’ve made a financial commitment to taking the exam. If you don’t take the exam, you’ve wasted money. You’ve also given yourself a deadline. It’s substantially easier to accomplish things when you have strict deadlines than when things are open ended.

Also many vendors allow you to reschedule an exam, so if life does get in the way, you’ve can reschedule. And because you’ve reschedule, you’ve just moved that deadline, not eliminated it entirely.