“I love deadlines…”, said no one, ever. We all cringe at the concept of the word, but tackling a deadline head-on can also be a good thing. Here are a few ways to use deadlines with a different perspective for improving your workflow, productivity and self confidence.
Make Mole Hills Out of that Mountain
Avoid big scary looming deadlines by breaking them up for yourself. We’ve all been there: the thought of huge goals can be overwhelming - especially if we don’t take a moment to gain a little perspective. Although it takes some practice, there is a way to tackle this deadline dread. Completing small amounts of work more frequently will help avoid unpleasant last-minute madness. Instead of pulling your hair out, map out how you plan to work on the project. There are many different ways to do that, as long as the mapping process identifies small, achievable goals. Since I respond well to color-coding, I write the steps of large tasks on sticky notes in different colors. Then I move the notes around to help me understand when I can do what. In many cases, a methodical approach will leave you relaxed and relieved - so much so that you might even finish early and come away with some fresh ideas. Once the initial project planning is complete, don't look back or too far ahead. Focus on the first step and start gaining momentum. The more steps you complete, the better you’ll feel and the closer you’ll move to your end goal.
This method is used by busy moms, solopreneurs and executives who need to do a million things every day. Timeboxing is a technique that involves completing specific tasks or activities in precisely allocated time periods. The trick is to give yourself a short time–no more than 20 minutes–to single-task with a vengeance. In preparation, put anything that could cause disruption as far away as possible, close all tabs in your browser and place your phone in another room. Decide precisely what you want to do in your timebox and then set a manual timer (kitchen timer), preferably one that doesn't tick loudly. You will be amazed how much gets done, especially if you remind yourself that you are not aiming for perfection.
False Finish (we coined this one)
If you tend to get stressed by deadlines, set a fake final deadline a little earlier than the real one so it acts as a buffer or cushion. Planning a false finish deadline for yourself creates a few days of emergency time, during which you can plan the final stretch accordingly. If you aren't quite done, you will gain a little extra scramble time to get things polished before that real deadline hits. Better yet, you might be able wrap up the work by your False Finish deadline and kick back for a couple of days with time to make sure you’re 110% ready. Who knows, you might even have enough time left over for a glass of wine.
Ask for Help
Asking for help is much harder than giving assistance to others. At the same time, there is no need to carry the full weight of a project entirely by yourself. If you work in a team or have favors you can call in from people suitable for parts of your project - now is the time to ask for help. Retaining ownership over all areas of a big project can reduce the delivery speed and increase the chances of missed deadlines. Make sure to negotiate an achievable deadline to begin with, and then recruit all the help you can get. That can be as simple as asking other family members to step up their chores, or delegating meetings at work to someone else. Taking some weight off your shoulders will free you up to increase your productivity and the quality of your project.
Getting stressed about deadlines isn't a personal flaw, but simply a problem to be addressed. It's good to remember that there is no right or wrong way to deal with a project, as long as your method doesn't cause major stress. I invite you to get in touch if your typical response to deadlines could use some fine-tuning.