Truth is, many of us have bad habits when it comes to deadlines, especially when we’re not motivated by an immediate personal reward.
Often, we procrastinate or avoid deadlines because that’s what we’ve always done. It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of college students procrastinate on their tasks until the last minute.
Those bad habits can graduate with you and trickle into the workforce and take years or decades to break.
However, deadlines can actually push us toward our best work.
In this articles, you’ll learn seven great tips for meeting your deadlines and tools to help you do it.
1. Make a full list of tasks to be done
A realistic deadline is based on a realistic view of all the work that has to be done. Your project manager or team leader can create a project plan to help the team understand scope, budget, and time to get a project done. This is known as the triple constraint of project management. Other factors like risk and quality control are thrown in there, too.
Once you understand the scope of what needs to be done, you can set more accurate deadlines for the milestones and small tasks you’ll need to complete to reach that goal. Time estimates are an important part of this. You should realistically gauge how much time you will need for researching, prototyping, creating, reviewing, and testing.
Don’t skip over any parts of the project because they’re “easy” or simple. Those things still need to be done, no matter how little time they take. It’s easy to start outlining your projects. The key is to get the tasks out of your head and into a list your team can share.
2. Prioritize your work and tasks
Once you’ve made your list, it’s time to prioritize.
At this point, I’d suggest managing your tasks in a project management tool or a productivity platform so that you can accurately gauge how much needs to be done. There are plenty of free project management tools you can try before you purchase.
Many of these tools offer time estimates as well, giving you an idea of how long something will take.
If you’re working with a team, you may only be playing a small role in a larger project. The project leader assess the full list of tasks from the whole team, consider the time estimates, and then assign priorities from there.
Because the leader (hopefully) understands the full project scope, they might be able to weed out a few redundant tasks or assign more complex items to multiple people for efficiency. They should also help set and communicate priorities so each team member knows and understands expectations and where to start.
3. Start somewhere
These two things are related:
- TV shows often end an episode or season with a cliffhanger.
- The tasks that we leave incomplete will stay on our minds for awhile.
What do these ideas have to do with one another? They’re both part of the Zeigarnik Effect. It’s the idea that things left undone will stay with us.
So in the case of a TV show, that’s what the writers and directors want—for the show to stay with us. But incomplete tasks often stay with us way too long, diluting your ability to really focus on what’s important. If we simple get started—take the first steps, the Zeigarnik Effect lessens.
Once we start on a task, we’re that much closer to finishing it and meeting the deadline. So don’t overlook the value in starting.
4. Set milestones before the deadline
Now that you or your team leader have prioritized the tasks, it’s time to set individual milestones. Think about the ultimate deadline and work backward from there. The deadline is your destination, while your milestones are the smaller goal posts along the way.
One way to do this is to make subtasks underneath your larger tasks to accurately chart your path. You may have milestones upon milestones, but these will keep you accountable and stop you from believing you have more time than you actually do.
Once the big project is broken into smaller chunks with due dates, you’ll be well-equipped and more motivated to start on those smaller pieces while seeing your progress along the way.
When you start working on the subtasks, track your time to see if you’re on pace to meet the deadline. If you find that you’re not, think through the roadblocks and talk to the project manager about what’s going on and how you’re prioritizing this project within your overall workload. Assessing your progress early and often will help you be aware of any help that you need as you go.
5. Update your team on progress
Wow, this seems quite obvious—but often we don’t share our progress directly with our teams or managers.
They probably believe you’re just humming along—or they may have forgotten about the project altogether. To keep everyone in the loop, consider daily quick stand ups, which are quick meetings that have been made popular with agile project management.
Daily stand ups give your team a brief report on what you’re working on and what they’re working on, and they usually only last 15 minutes. You can then discuss any roadblocks or issues that may keep you from meeting your deadline. Regularly updating your project management software with comments could also eliminate unnecessary meetings.
Or, consider a dedicated Slack channel for the project, so you can keep everyone on the same page in real time. Don’t spend more time talking about it than actually doing the work.
6. Streamline approvals
Getting approvals should be a natural outflow from your regular progress updates. If you need more resources, or someone else’s a review or feedback before you can move to the next step, you should determine exactly who needs to approve what and during what stage of your project.
With this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to send them the right materials at the right time, no sooner and no later. The review and feedback period can be brutal if mishandled, and streamlined approvals will save you valuable time when achieving your deadline.
Don’t make the approval process a fire drill. Plan ahead and ask the approver how much time they’d like to have for review so you’re not thrown off course if they take longer than you anticipated.
7. Ship it, don’t make it perfect
Once you have the right feedback and reviews, it’s up to your team to decide what matters—and what doesn’t. This is controversial advice for our achievement-driven society.
Perfectionism can hold us back from moving. Aim for 90 percent good. That sounds like an excuse for less than quality work, but is that extra 10 percent worth the time? We should aim for 10x improvements rather than 10 percent improvements. The time trade-off of making it 100 percent isn’t always worth it.
By thinking about 10x rather than 10 percent improvements, it’s easier to make deadline. Often, we’ll impose that last ten percent on ourselves—without a manager or colleague even realizing the improvement we made. And in the end, did those last touch ups really move the needle?
Learn from your mistakes and wins
Once you finish your project and meet your deadline, it’s good to review and think about how you could improve for next time.
Ask these questions:
- What worked?
- What could we improve?
- What should we stop doing?
Don’t consider your project finished until you’ve done this. And secondarily, if your project should have demonstrate ROI directly, make sure you’ve laid out when you’ll assess performance and how you’ll measure it.
All this will help you determine if the project was worth it, what systems can be improved, and ways to find efficiencies so you can meet or beat your deadlines more often.
Posted in: Productivity