How Not to Whiff on Deadlines
By Mike Raia Posted September 13, 2021
Some of us have a more challenging time meeting deadlines than others, but there are some ways to improve our odds of nailing them more often.
We're obsessive about scheduling our work. However, when we need to get down to business and put our ideas into action, we push things back until the last minute—or, worse, past the deadline.
We tend to underestimate how long it will take us to complete a task. We are not born with the ability to manage our time well. The problem is that we keep failing without learning the lesson since we can't prepare and blame external circumstances such as colleagues dropping by, your boss delegating too many duties, hundreds of emails, meetings, more emails, sleep, stress, and so on.
While many of us believe we can always catch up and make our deadlines, the best way to avoid whiffing on deadlines happens before you even start.
Get clear guidance on the deadline upfront.
To begin any task, take a moment to scope out the nature of the work. If you have a tight deadline for a difficult task or project, you'll need to figure out what work must be done and map it out. Making sure you know exactly what is expected of you will prove to be handy so that when the deadline nears, you don't find yourself having to make corrections or edits because you didn't know entirely what the project entailed.
The person who set the deadline should, in theory, have considered the work's intricacy. On the other hand, the person receiving the project and deadline should clarify and prove they understand the assignment to prevent inconsistencies.
Establish what resources you'll need.
Next, double-check that you have everything you'll need to do the work on time. Sometimes, an assignment can require several hours of research, an extra set of eyes, or even traveling. It's crucial to walk yourself through the project at hand in your head. Will you promptly have the necessary personnel, technical assistance, equipment, training, or supplies on hand? If not, you may need to propose a more extended timeline or a reduction in the quality or amount of work you'll be able to produce on time.
Plan for contingencies.
Sometimes life happens, or other urgent duties present themselves to you, and the plan doesn't always go accordingly. Most people know that there are risks with any project and can sideline other less important or urgent tasks. Having a plan in place for the "what ifs" when the task is assigned can take away much of your stress as you work.
Present your Plan A, B, and even C to the stakeholder(s) and explain why they're necessary. Get buy-in on at least a Plan B.
Keep track of deadlines.
Due to other duties or the drama of everyday life, even the most diligent and responsible professionals who leave no stone unturned to fulfill deadlines might lose sight of projects and deadlines. To avoid this, use a calendar to organize your tasks, projects, activities, and milestones, and check it every day as part of your routine. This will ensure that you keep on track and top of your schedule throughout the day.
When planning minor chores, don't plan too far ahead. The farther away a task is on the schedule, the less significant it becomes. Begin by listing the things that must be completed this week, next week, and beyond next week. Once you've decided on this week's duties, divide them into today's and tomorrow's tasks and ladder them as the business and clients' demands change.
Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize!
When working on a project, you're generally swamped with tasks that must be completed by a specific date. It's now time to prioritize your duties to get the most out of your time. Note all your tasks, then categorize them as "urgent" or "important." This will help you determine what needs to be done promptly and what has the heaviest weight—sometimes, specific tasks can be both, so it's essential to make a note so you can stay on top of it.
Make time early in the day to prioritize your most important activities and prepare for meetings. If you postpone these tasks, you risk becoming overworked as the day progresses. When you're nearing a tight deadline or a high-pressure assignment, prioritizing based on urgency might help relieve some tension.
Categorize tasks based on their expected effort.
If you have jobs that appear to be tied for priority, review their estimates, and begin with the one you believe will require the most significant work to finish. Starting the longer work first, according to productivity gurus, is a good strategy. However, if you believe you won't be able to focus on your more critical assignments until you accomplish the shorter task, trust your instincts and do so. Checking a minor item off the list before plunging into deeper seas may be encouraging.
Use time blocking.
Create clear limits and reasonable expectations with others, rather than overcommitting or succumbing to unending responsibilities. You may be hindering your time management when you take the time to answer emails, phone calls, and office chit-chat right when they present themselves to you.
Being extremely responsive causes you to put off taking action on your top objectives. You may create appropriate boundaries for fair access to you without jeopardizing your most essential work by making time blocks for when you meet with customers and colleagues, take phone calls, and react to emails. Time blocking is creating your set schedule based on your deadlines to put forth time and effort to those tasks. It can be beneficial to make sure you hit those deadlines while also improving your time management.
The Bottom (dead)Line
Deadlines are critical to your performance as an employee. Whether you're working on a campaign for your 9-to-5 or finishing a freelancing job for an outside customer, missing a deadline not only makes you appear unprofessional, but it may also result in the loss of clients, tasks, and, eventually, money.
That's why it's critical to comprehend each project you do, be organized, map out your duties, and devise a strategy. You'll escape the stress of last-minute procrastination, produce top-notch work, and establish a reputation that will earn you respect, trust, and, eventually, new projects and clients if you keep on top of your tasks and deadlines.
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