Every day we make (and occasionally miss) our deadlines. Catch the train by 8:30 a.m. Get to the bank before 5 p.m. Submit this blog post by…well, you get the point.
Today’s definition of a deadline is “the time by which something must be finished or submitted,” but it gets its name from an older and more sinister meaning. It used to be a boundary around a military prison beyond which a prisoner could not venture without risk of being shot by the guards. Scary. Think about that next time you fear a workplace zero hour.
The advantage of deadlines is that they’re motivational. When you make the deadline, the feeling of achievement makes the next step or task that much easier.
“Publicly committing to meeting a deadline is a powerful motivator, because it puts your reputation on the line,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. It’s much more difficult to procrastinate when someone else is watching the clock—and you.
Here are some tips to meet that looming deadline:
Start with specifics
When exactly is the deadline? Clarify whether “end of the week” means 5 p.m. Friday or first thing Friday morning. Be sure to nail down the tasks and the results. What is the client expecting? How will they measure your success/effectiveness?
Make a plan and start easy
Some of us thrive on the pressure of a last-minute scramble, but rushing at the eleventh hour isn’t the best way to meet a deadline. It’s better to make a plan to take tasks head on, starting with the easy stuff—the aspects you know you are quick wins. Make a commitment to do at least a little bit at a time on a consistent basis. Even if you take a break at a certain point, the task that awaits you isn’t nearly as daunting as it was before.
Don’t be fooled
Who hasn’t reached the point when the oh-so-far away cutoff is just around the corner, resulting in a mad dash under pressure? Far-off deadlines trick us into thinking that we have all the time in the world and convince us that we don’t need to start anytime soon. Ideally, you want to meet a deadline, not have a deadline meet you. When working against the clock, be sure to set shorter deadlines along the way to get manageable chunks of the work done and make a plan to complete the task in plenty of time.
Set reminders everywhere. On your calendar. Create tasks in Outlook. Stick a Post-It with big, bold writing on your computer. Creating a sense of urgency will keep your deadline top of mind and not let it get pushed aside by distractions.
You never know what’s on the other side of that (dead) line.