Dealing with Deadlines

Don't panic if your month is full of red marks!

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams, 1952-2001

Do you love deadlines? I bet you don’t. In fact, I can’t name anyone who loves them… Except it is in the witty sense that Mr. Adams puts into them. In fact, I hate the sound of them whooshing as they pass, luckily I’ve learnt how to live with them, and you can too.

Dealing with deadlines

Visualise them: This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many people fall in this trap. You need some calendaring system to track your deadlines. It does not matter if it is a fancy iPad application that syncs through Dropbox with your office server or a sheet attached with duct tape to your front door. Anything will work as long as you are consistent and use it.

The best tool should have at least a monthly view, to have a clear map of what waits to be done in the next 30 days. It should also be effortless to add a new task or check what is left to do: if it requires even a little of your energy or time, you’ll end up not doing and the dreared whoosh will come again.

Don’t fret out as they approach: The worse thing you can do when deadlines are looming is enter panic mode. If you think you can make it to the deadline there is no reason to get nervous… And if you don’t think you can make it, try anyway. A missed deadline is not the end of the world, but your boss/client will be happier if he knows you’ve given it everything you got.

Plan ahead of time: Another no-brainer that people tend to miss. As soon as you have a deadline for a project, start planning how you will solve it within this deadline. This can be working every day non-stop for 8 hours (a sign that this deadline was a too harsh) or doing X before Y.

If you don’t have a plan you’ll end up working twice as much as you would with a plan. And probably will add a few sleepless nights due to the anxiety of not knowing exactly what is left. More about this in the next tip.

Break the big into the simple: When you have long-winded deadlines (anything bigger than two weeks should go in this category), you should split the project into smaller sub-projects, and assign each of them their own mini-deadline. This goes together with planning: you turn a big and hairy project into a set of small furry balls you can always keep under control.

Don’t overdo this: there is no point in having a deadline each day for a certain project, but it will help having at least something to finish every 3 or 4 days.

Be flexible: Before agreeing to a deadline, estimate how much time this project will eat… And add half that to the result. In other words, if you think a project will only need one week, try to get a 10 day deadline. This is not to help your slacking, mind you. This is to allow for unplanned emergencies. Everybody has a tendency to underestimate a task’s difficulty, and even if you are just lucky and the deadline is very sharp, life can always get in the way. Very tight deadlines can be broken just by waking up to a strong migraine.

If you always add a small security gap to your deadlines, most of your projects will be delivered before the agreed deadline. This will put you ahead of the competition, nobody ever delivers before a deadline!

Do you know how to deal with your deadlines? Or are you just hanging from them?

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