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Setting Deadlines Can Push You to Work Harder, but Not Smarter

Setting Deadlines Can Push You to Work Harder, but Not Smarter

When you start your workday, you may welcome the tasks that arise to fill your time. Work comes to you with no rhyme or reason, but you do it. You tackle things as they come, and you turn everything in by the deadline.

It may seem that you’re successful because you turn in your work on time. The problem is, you don’t know how to effectively plan for a day’s work.

Most people live and die by deadlines

Time is an important factor to consider when you’re completing tasks. Many of us chase deadlines or knock out the easiest tasks first to feel a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, we spend too long on some tasks, and scramble to do everything else.

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    You may have 10 working hours in a given day, and it’s your job to do as much work as possible in that time. It’s easy to work all day and accomplish very little.

    You have to be intentional about priorities. If you only worry about filling time slots and meeting deadlines, you may neglect more important, high-value tasks.

    But living by deadlines gets you into trouble

    Humans are terrible at guessing how long it takes to complete projects. Guessing is even more challenging when we are developing something new. We’re not machines, and our day-to-day outputs don’t tend to fit into neat algorithms. When we estimate completion date on a project, we don’t take into account the non-project related work that creeps into our schedules. Those emails, meetings, and team member commitments that crop up at the last minute cost time.

    We often associate dates and days with certain emotions. For example, do you find yourself as productive on Friday afternoon as you are on Tuesday? Relative estimation of when you’ll complete a task doesn’t take into consideration how feelings affect work.

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    To top it off, you can give several teams the same task, and they’ll all complete them in a slightly different time frame. Their velocity on work turnaround, calculated in points, will vary along with their time frame. Setting arbitrary times for finishing work makes it impossible to use velocity as a selling point in your team’s effectiveness unless your team performs significantly better than your competitors.

    How to make guesses more accurate

    Instead of relying on deadlines and dates to stay productive, you can take a more objective approach. The management technique known as scrum can help you accomplish this. In the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, the Scrum technique allows you to produce better estimates for planning timelines by using a system of points instead of units of time.

    When you’re working to solve complex problems, there are usually several teams involved. It’s impossible to guess how long it will take to complete a project on your own or communicate your team’s needs to other groups. Your role in a project may require little effort, but the teams around you may have to expend considerable effort for their part. You need the input of every team involved to arrive at a reasonable estimation.

    Use story points

    The most productive teams have switched from setting deadlines to deciding how long tasks will take based on a process known as scrum or agile estimation. They use story points (the input of various teams involved) to understand the relative difficulty of each task.[1]

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    Workers rate the degree of difficulty using a Fibonacci-sequence: 0, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20. This abstraction pushes the team to make tougher decisions around the difficulty of work.

    They assign numeric value to their respective portion, and play “planning poker.” In planning poker, workers hold up a number that they think represents the level of difficulty for that project.

    Make sure everyone’s on the same page

    When all parties agree about the numbers in planning poker, they know that they are all on the same page about the timeline. If the numbers differ, the teams must discuss how everyone reached their numbers.

    Sometimes, we have no idea what obstacles other teams face. This method opens a dialogue about what it will take to actualize a project. Differing opinions in the difficulty of a project can address whether everyone is working on the same scale.

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    Don’t complicate the points

    It’s best to set an upper limit of 20 story points when you are trying to make a project less complicated. Anything greater than that needs to be broken into smaller attainable steps. Breaking tasks down into smaller steps keeps teams from becoming overwhelmed.

    Hindsight is 20/20

    When you’re trying to give an accurate estimation for how long a project will take, don’t forget to think about past experience. If you’ve done similar jobs, consider how long they took to complete and what pitfalls you experienced. Think about the number of story points that particular aspects cost.

    The more data you can refer back to, the closer you’ll be to landing an accurate estimate. Besides, you may be able to improve on previous methods so that you can complete your work more efficiently.

    Stop being a slave for deadline

    Setting a deadline based on how long you think the task will take can leave you scrambling or turning in substandard work. There’s no reason for you to work harder when you could be working smarter.

    By thinking about your work in the abstract story points system instead of time, you’ll be able to communicate your needs and understand the needs of others much more clearly. You’ll know when you need to break tasks into smaller steps, and you’ll have a more efficient way of thinking about past experiences with similar projects.

    To learn more about effectively planning your next project, read Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster What Is a Habit? Understand It to Control It 100% 7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning The Lifehack Show Episode 12: Staying On Top of Your Game as an Entrepreneur How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2019

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    Everyone of my team members has a bucketload of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creativity tasks or problem solving tasks.

    Despite having loads of tasks to handle, our team is able to stay creative and work towards our goals consistently.

    How do we manage that?

    I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours over the long term. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize:

    The Scales Method – a productivity method I created several years ago.

    How to Prioritize with the Scales Method

      One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

      At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days.

      After she listened to my advice – and I introduced her to the Scales Method – she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

      • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles
      • She could publish all her articles on time
      • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!)

      Curious to find out how she did it? Read on for the step-by-step guide:

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      1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

      When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

      My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning – but keep it short. Ideally, 10 or 15 minutes. This should be adequate to think about your plan.

      Use this time to:

      • Look at the big picture.
      • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
      • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

      2. Align Your Tasks with Your Goal

      This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective.

      It works like this:

      Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

      By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

        To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

        Low Cost + High Benefit

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        Do these tasks first because they’re the simple ones to complete, yet help you get closer to your goal.

        Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

        High Cost + High Benefit

        Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete. And then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

        Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new diary-free protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting – aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g., spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

        Low Cost + Low Benefit

        This combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kind of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

        These are probably necessary tasks (e.g., routine tasks like checking emails) but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

        High Cost + Low Benefit

        Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

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        For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there they can make this process instant and seamless.

        Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

          After listening to my advice, she broke down the High cost+ High benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

            And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only – thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

            Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks with Deadlines

            Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of achieving your goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be deadlines set by external parties such as managers and agencies.

            What to do in these cases?

            Well, I suggest that after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list with the deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

            For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

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            Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

              Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to order them in lists of priority.

              The Scales Method Is Different from Anything Else You’ve Tried

              By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work, and most importantly – boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

              And unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefits. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefits combinations.

              Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be super-easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains, is that you kick off your next working day by following your new list.

              Trust me, once you begin using the Scales Method – you’ll never want to go back to your old ways of working.

              More to Boost Productivity

              Featured photo credit: Vector Stock via vectorstock.com

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