I have a love and hate relationship with deadlines. Often, it’s a motivator to get excellent work done, sometimes it instills the fear that keeps me up at night- not finishing on time or worse, not having anything to submit at all. It’s a process; on some days I make my deadlines… and on some days I don’t. Nevertheless, I’ve picked up a few tips on managing my deadlines.
1. Start right away Rather than letting the assignment evolve into a looming threat, pounce onto the passion you get when you have a new project, idea or client. Oftentimes, we get so caught up in researching, brainstorming and mulling things over that the anxiety to create something great builds up. Just start right away, even if you’re making small amounts of progress every day, it’s still progress and eventually you’ll get there. Think you’re a creative who can’t be tied down by time? Consider what renowned American art director (considered the original Mad Men), George Lois had to say on the subject: “Show up, sit down and get it done.”
2. Focus There’s so much draw to multi-tasking as a way to do it all at once, and we try to do everything all of the time. As different projects come in, various tasks pile up and you try to be on top of it all. Before you know it, the day is over and you realize you’ve only been putting effort into tasks half-heartedly. Just look at how Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and co-founder of Twitter juggles working full-time at both companies– he’d schedule themes for both companies everyday such as management issues on Mondays, products on Tuesdays, and so forth. If you have two or three projects at a time, focus on one. When you feel your motivation burning out, switch off to another assignment. Instead of focusing on too many things at once, block off time out of your day to work on one project with intense focus. No distractions and definitely no social media!
3. Prioritize The same way that focus is integral, prioritizing is essential too. If you’re just ticking things off your to-do list without order, your important tasks might get shoved aside. Determine the urgency of your tasks to figure out which requires most priority. Emulate the essence of Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova, the “interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large” who reads through hundreds of things a day (yes, a day!) to produce the best content for her blog. One thing we notice from her hectic schedule is the importance of prioritizing her blocked time for particular tasks such as researching, writing, and even meditating.
4. Set a cushion time Plans rarely go as smoothly and according to what you set out, so it’s always wise to assign a buffer time in case plans go awry or you need more time before or after a task or the big deadline. Break down the project into smaller tasks and before the cutoff point, schedule a day or two to give yourself a breather to review your project to allow for delays or last-minute changes. U.S. President Barack Obama is a fan of scheduling buffer time– he sifts through work late in the evening, so that he can spend time with family the next morning before heading to the Oval Office to start his day.
5. Feedback You don’t have to be the hero who can do everything without help. As your work progress or if you’re stuck on a problem, don’t be afraid to show what you have so far and ask for help from your teammates, boss or even client. In a 2013 TED talk musician Amanda Palmer brought up “the art of asking” and encourages people to ask for help to let go of insecurity and shame. And it’s true, it’s better to know beforehand you’re off the wrong foot to keep yourself on track, rather than find out at the end that you’ve gotten it wrong.
There you have it. The struggle is real, but deadlines are good for motivating us to keep going. Rather than spending late nights and missing social events to catch up on pending work, start right away and relish the thought of how awesome it is crossing off these projects on your lengthy to-do list. Before the deadline, of course.