More often than not, the word “deadline” is enough to generate rushes of panic and desperation in any work environment. Some people are able to work well under this type of pressure. Others, not so much:
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams
Still, there are several ways in which you can learn how to work on tight deadlines – and actually use them to be more productive.
Working on many projects and in fast-paced environments can be tough.
Studies have shown that the human brain is not that good at perceiving time. When estimating duration, there’s actually a thing called “the Planning Fallacy” also known as “the optimism bias”. It means that humans have a tendency to underestimate how much it takes to finish a task. That makes it even more difficult to meet deadlines and to keep a balanced workload.
In the busiest times, it’s hard to work on a tight schedule. However, it’s possible to still make it to the dreaded deadline on time. Being respectful of schedules and timelines is not only good for productivity but also good for motivation and morale. Not to mention, it’s vital to build a good relationship with clients and co-workers.
If you change your mindset and adjust your routine, it’s possible to take the stress away from deadlines. You may even use them to your advantage.
Don’t complicate your life before you even start.
Make sure you have clearly defined (with clients or managers) what exactly need to be done. In addition, share expectations and goals so that everybody is on the same page. This way, you’ll avoid unexpected requests and/or mistakes that could prevent you from meeting your deadline.
Once you know what exactly needs to be done, you’ll have to estimate how much time it’ll take to achieve it. To make a more accurate estimate, take a look at your past work and how much time you spent on similar tasks/ projects.
If you’ve been using a time tracking tool, you’ll have all the data you need to make the comparison. (If you have no ideas where your time is going, we can’t stress enough the importance of tracking time.)
As a general rule, it’s always better to overestimate. One reason why is the planning fallacy we discussed above. In addition, despite our best efforts to avoid the unexpected, rarely anything goes as planned. Having some extra time available can really save you. Besides, if things do go as planned and you end up finishing earlier, you’ll make a long-lasting positive impression to clients and co-workers.
So that’s it – you have a big deadline approaching.
*dramatic music starts to play*
Juggling many projects makes it incredibly easy to leave something behind. Working on the task at hand an giving it 100% of your focus and effort is the best way to get it done. Nevertheless, focusing on one thing at a time doesn’t mean to lose grasp of the bigger picture.
Find a way to visualize your work and keep everything under control. Since we’re talking about deadlines here, considering putting your work down on a calendar.
Big project coming up? Try to break it down into smaller steps. If it helps, assign mini-deadlines to each of them. This way, you’ll take the big boulder down gradually, making it easier to finish everything on time. Besides, getting tasks done is really good for motivation!
Finally, how can you make sure once and for all that nothing will derail you?
First of all, refuse other unscheduled, out-of-scope commitments. I know that’s easier said than done. Still, you should learn to say no to clients, colleagues, and management and refuse any commitment that might delay your schedule.
Which brings us to the golden art of delegation. When you feel that you won’t make it or time, or the workload is too much, don’t be afraid to ask for help or to outsource to others.
This does not mean passing the buck, but instead, it means to collaborate with other people effectively. Which means, don’t forget to delegate properly, be grateful to those who help you, and also return the favor.