You must remain on top of your deadlines to succeed in any field. After all, keeping deadlines demonstrates your reliability and trustworthiness to others. In addition, you avoid the anxiety and stress of rushing to complete a task at the last minute.
However, the challenge is staying ahead of deadlines when you are juggling many tasks at once. Let’s explore some tips on staying on top of deadlines and getting things done in this blog post.
The Importance of Deadlines
It might seem that we would thrive in a world without projects or deadlines. Realistically, this kind of environment can be problematic. After all, deadlines communicate the value of time, as well as:
- Completing work on time. The use of deadlines can help prevent tasks from being missed or delayed.
- Maintaining a smooth flow of work. Team collaboration and project management are made easier by deadlines.
- Defining expectations. When a deadline is set, it provides clear expectations about what needs to be delivered and by when.
- Inspiring action. A deadline can help people plan ahead and create a sense of urgency.
- Organizing schedules. In both short- and long-term projects, deadlines can help organize and manage scheduling.
- Establishing a common goal. Throughout the process, teams can communicate with each other due to deadlines.
- Building structure. A team can stay organized by setting deadlines and ensuring everyone’s work is on track.
Deadlines also have the following benefits:
- Adding concreteness to goals.
- Making it easier for people to plan ahead.
- Identifying the right resources to complete a task promptly.
- Making sure everyone stays productive.
Lastly, deadline pressure can lead to increased anxiety and stress, manifesting as insomnia and irritability. Constant worries about not meeting expectations can also cause self-doubt and low self-esteem.
1. Schedule fewer deadlines.
The easiest way to stay on top of your deadlines? Have fewer deadlines. After all, the more courage you have to say no, the more significant its impact on your happiness.
Determine what your top priorities are in your life and at work to make this easier for yourself. Basically, anything that does not have an expiration date is eligible for your new no-deadline policy.
For example, politely decline other people’s offers to join meetings or projects. You can tell them, “I would love to, but I cannot commit right now. Would it be okay to get back to you once I’m available?”
Most people will let you off the hook entirely if you ask. Seeing you’re not an easy target, they’ll try to find someone else who has difficulty refusing them.
2. Write it down.
The importance of writing down deadlines cannot be overstated.
To begin with, it helps you maintain organization and focus. The likelihood of you completing a task increases when you have a deadline.
The second benefit of writing down deadlines is that it can assist you in prioritizing your tasks. It is easier to prioritize the most important tasks if you know when they are due.
Thirdly, writing deadlines down can reduce stress. A clear understanding of what needs to be done and when makes your work less overwhelming and stressful.
I suggest using a calendar or planner to record deadlines. Aside from keeping track of all your deadlines, these tools can also help you set up reminders so you don’t forget anything.
3. Prioritize your tasks.
It is important to understand that not all tasks are created equal. In some cases, there is more importance and urgency to a task than in others. As such, the following factors should be considered when prioritizing your tasks:
- Importance. In terms of your overall goals, how important is the task?
- Urgency. Does the task need to be completed within a certain amount of time?
- Complexity. Is the task difficult?
- Dependencies. Before this task can begin, are there any other tasks that need to be completed?
4. Organize large tasks into smaller ones.
Whenever possible, break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. It will help you stay on track and make the tasks seem less daunting.
You can, for example, break an enormous project down into smaller steps, such as researching the topic, creating an outline, writing the draft, and editing it.
5. Set realistic expectations.
In order to be able to meet your own and others’ goals, it is essential to set realistic expectations. Aiming too high at once puts you at risk of failure. Likewise, being realistic about the completion time of each task is a must.
When in doubt, it is better to overestimate the time you need and err on the side of caution. As humans, we aren’t great at estimating time. Why? It’s because of the planning fallacy. Typically, we underestimate how long it takes to complete a task because of this bias
6. Each step should have a start and end date.
When you break down a more extensive project into smaller tasks, you can create a list for each with a start and completion date. With this, you can better understand how far behind you are or if you’re on track.
When you’re specific with your start and completion dates, you’ll find that seeing your progress as you check things off your deadline list is very motivating. You’ll also be able to identify tasks you haven’t completed yet, which will result in project completion.
7. Put a time on your calendar to block off.
As you may know, time blocking is a time management technique based on making detailed schedules in your calendar for each day of the week. It describes what you’ll be working on, for how long, and for how long. Time blocking is useful for a variety of things, including work projects, reminders, personal time, and even when it’s time to eat.
8. Define your focus time.
You should determine your daily focus time when working on projects with a tight deadline. After all, there are a lot of things that could distract you from your work. Getting distracted by Slack messages, meeting invitations, and personal calls can keep you from accomplishing your work.
In order to be able to work on projects without interruption, you need to have some dedicated time where you are not interrupted. It’s incredible how much you can accomplish when you block out time for focus.
9. Submit your work ahead of the deadline.
Early completion of work is a surefire way to impress bosses and clients alike. Your reliability will make them want to work with you more. Furthermore, they are likely to accept your future deadlines since they know you will keep your word.
More importantly, this can reduce stress and anxiety. Moreover, it allows you to manage deadlines better, thereby creating a positive feedback loop.
10. Focus on action (vs. motion).
Being proactive and taking action will help you meet your deadlines without stressing yourself out. However, according to James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” there is a big difference between motion and action:
“When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome… Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself. It doesn’t matter how many times you go talk to the personal trainer, that motion will never get you in shape. Only the action of working out will get the result you’re looking to achieve.”
Clear suggests that it’s important to identify a date when you want to shift from motion to action rather than finding yourself in motion.
11. Communicate along the way.
Nearly 47 percent of employees say they miss deadlines because they can’t figure out where a project is going. That’s why communication is so important.
The first thing you should do is ask questions when your manager or colleague gives you an assignment. The sooner you consult with your stakeholders, the less likely you’ll be disappointed or have to do extra work in the future.
Also, be sure to communicate with key stakeholders, like collaborators or managers, as your deadline approaches. To hold yourself accountable, consider setting up weekly check-ins with external stakeholders or teammates.
12. Be prepared for the worst.
Occasionally, being pessimistic pays off. Next time you have an essential task to accomplish, begin by assuming that it will fail, recommends Kristi DePaul for HBR.
An approach like this is known as a pre-mortem. This process is similar to the post-mortem, another popular project management tool, in that it involves reflecting, only this time, it deals with what might happen instead of what has already occurred.
The aim of this strategy is to predict what will happen before it occurs. It will also allow you to predict possible (if unlikely) problems. Moreover, you’ll be prepared to develop a backup plan in case of an emergency.
“Pre-mortems are helpful because they walk you through the process and discipline the natural tendency to be optimistic by considering how something will go awry,” said researcher Jonathan Parker from the MIT Sloan School of Management. “This goes beyond the way an individual might choose to discipline themselves based on their own personal costs of missing the deadline (reputational damage, losing their job, etc.). You’re effectively forcing them to be more realistic than they would naturally be, and that’s a very useful thing for the workplace when timely completion is important.”
What are the benefits of staying ahead of deadlines?
Keeping up with deadlines has many benefits. Among the benefits are:
- Stress and anxiety can be reduced.
- You can improve the quality of your work.
- Establish trust and credibility with colleagues and clients.
- Make sure you don’t rush at the last minute.
- You will have more time to review and revise your work.
- Take control of your workload by being proactive.
How can I stay ahead of deadlines?
To stay ahead of deadlines, you can do the following:
- Plan and prioritize your tasks. Make a list of everything you need to accomplish, and then prioritize them according to importance and urgency. By doing this, you will be able to focus on the most important tasks first and avoid spending time on the less important ones.
- Set realistic deadlines for yourself. Take your time and don’t try to accomplish too much in a short period. Instead, schedule realistic amounts of time for each task.
- Break down large tasks into smaller ones. By doing this, the tasks will seem less intimidating and more manageable.
- Schedule time in your calendar for each task. By staying focused and not getting distracted, you will stay on track.
- Take breaks. Even if it’s for only a few minutes, it’s important to take breaks throughout the day. You will be able to stay focused and productive if you do this.
What are some common mistakes people make when staying ahead of deadlines?
To stay on top of deadlines, people make the following mistakes:
- Underestimating the amount of time it will take to complete a task. Don’t be afraid to give yourself some wiggle room, and be realistic about how much time you need.
- Procrastinating. Putting off tasks until the last minute is never a good idea. Meeting your deadlines will become more difficult as a result.
- Taking on too much work. Managing your workload realistically and declining new commitments when you’re already overwhelmed is essential.
- Not breaking down large tasks into smaller ones. You may feel overwhelmed and unable to keep track of your progress when this happens.
- Not prioritizing tasks. If you spend too much time on less important tasks and not enough on the most important, you will be wasting time.
- Not taking breaks. It is important to take breaks throughout the day in order to avoid burnout. Burnout causes you to be less productive and more prone to making mistakes.
What should I do if I’m falling behind on a deadline?
You should communicate with your manager or client when you fall behind on a deadline. If you can’t meet the deadline, let them know and see if you can negotiate a new one.
The following tips will help you deal with missed deadlines:
- Analyze why you missed the deadline. Were you underestimating the amount of time it would take to finish the project? Are you procrastinating? Have you been distracted by distractions? In the future, you can take steps to avoid missing deadlines again once you know why you missed them.
- Create a plan to catch up. Make the remaining work more manageable by breaking it into smaller tasks. Plan your time accordingly and set realistic deadlines.
- Ask for help if you need it. Do not hesitate to ask for help from a coworker, manager, or friend if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels; Thank you!