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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

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 18, 2019

    How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

    How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

    Most people grow up with dreams to go to college and graduate with high-paying job offers waiting for them the week after graduation. Others may favor non-traditional career paths. But the desire is the same: to find a job we love where compensation is commensurate with experience.

    However, plans change. For instance, what started out as a dream to be a surgeon is cut short by a nasty injury and you’re debating how to transition into a new role. Or you might be facing being let go from your current employer and are anxious about “options out there.”

    Whatever the case may be, switching careers can be intentional or unintentional. What matters is that you’re well-prepared, and the only way to do so is to learn new skills — hone in on your transferable skills.

    Why Hone in on Your Transferable Skills?

    There are several reasons you need to develop these skills if you want to go far in life and your career. In a nutshell, honing in your your transferable skills can lead to:

    Better Job Offers

    Continuous assessment and improvement of your skills widens the pool of job offers for you to make selections from. You’re no longer tethered to one industry as you’re able to lead your career by design, not by default.

    People with transferable skills on a resume also open up opportunities for more potential employers.

    Increase in Pay and More Responsibilities

    You’ve heard the saying “with great power come great responsibility.” In your case, transferable skills make you more marketable to employers which could lead to pay raises.

    Although this isn’t an automatic process– you have to be proactive about what you want in the marketplace, there is a chance that these pay raises will come with change in titles and roles.

    A Shot at Entrepreneurship

    Yes, changing career paths also includes the possibility of working for yourself. With these skills and work experience, you could live anywhere in the world and design a life and career you want.

    We’ve talked about why you need to strengthen your transferable skills but what are some these skills, and how can you work on them?

    13 Tips to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills

    1. Update Your Resume

    You might be surprised to know this but yes, updating your resume is a skill. The very first thing you should do while thinking about switching careers is to highlight attributes that make you very desirable candidate to employers.

    Think about your volunteer experiences, freelance projects, and school projects. Although they might seem insignificant, they demonstrate your ability to deliver results that several companies are looking for.

    While you might have held several positions since college, switching careers will require you to have a different type of resume.

    There are three different types of resumes: functional, chronological, and a combination resume. However, if you are looking to switch careers you’ll want to have a functional resume. A functional resume is strengths-based that emphasizes skills that are transferable rather than a collection of dates and job titles.

    2. Brush up on Your Communication Skills

    Every attempt to get ahead in business and in life starts with the need to communicate effectively. Whether it is interpersonal, intercultural, or multi-generational, the ability to be seen and heard while respecting the boundaries of work relationship matters.

    That’s why it’s one of the top skills you need to master. Strong communication skills allows you to effectively tailor your messages to specific audiences, which will make you a stronger asset to any organization.

    To hone this skill:

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    Pay attention to your listening skills. To communicate effectively, you need to first learn how to understand others.

    Your ability to decode overt and implied messages, no matter how nuanced they are, is key to knowing how to foster deep relationships with others.

    This article can also give you effective ways to enhance your communication skills:

    How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home

    3. Learn Technical (or Business) Writing

    Another form of communication, writing, is a skill that can take you anywhere.

    Companies communicate a lot through written memos, emails, newsletters, and other audio-visual means. But at the crux of this all is someone or some people who are tasked with translating the organization’s vision into statements anyone can understand.

    To hone this skill:

    Consider taking some free or paid classes online. You can accomplish this through several community colleges or online platforms like Lynda, Udemy or edX .

    4. Practice Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

    No matter how intelligent you are, no one will take you seriously if you’re unable to pull off a decent level of persuasion through presentation skills.

    Most presentation can be done through either electronic devices or require your physical presence. Your chosen career may require you to be in front of several hundreds of people or you could be charged with developing materials for presentation.

    To hone this skill:

    Volunteer to lead projects that give you some responsibility for putting together presentations.

    Also, try taking courses that will improve your public speaking skills if you feel lacking.

    These tips on public speaking would be helpful too:

    The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

    5. Get Comfortable with Identifying Problems and Solutions

    Every organization has got its problems no matter how greener the grass is on the other side.

    How to hone this skill:

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    Practice being resourceful.

    Do you know where to find every company policy on the intranet in less than five minutes?

    Think about a time you noticed some inefficiency at work and proposed a solution. Think about instances where you lent your voice to a cause which resulted in improved processes for your department.

    No matter how small or inadequate you might feel, you’ve got some problem-solving skills that some organizations want.

    If you look for more ways to improve your problem solving skills, take a look at this article:

    6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

    6. Recognize Your Team-Building Ability

    Your ability to smoothly switch careers also depends on how well you can energize your team, especially if you’re aiming for a leadership role. Unfortunately, team-building usually isn’t something you learn on the job in most careers unless you hold a managerial position.

    The good thing is that you possibly know one or two things about team-building. Think back to moments in college when you had group projects with colleagues and had to work with 3 to 4 other strangers for months. Were you able to get past your differences and disagreements to focus on the uniqueness of everyone at the table?

    Making a career switch might require that you work with multidisciplinary teams whether you have a deep knowledge of what the other team does or not. I can easily think of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and social workers working closely to achieve the goals in a patient’s care plan.

    How to hone this skill:

    Look for collaborative projects and team building activities that excite you and challenge yourself with new possibilities.

    Try some of these tactics to keep your team motivated as well:

    17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

    7. Lean into Your Leadership Skills

    Although similar to the previous point, leadership skills extend far beyond building teams, managing time sheets and correcting behavior.

    What I’m referring to here is your ability to develop a vision, believe in it, and inspire buy-in from everyone involved. This isn’t about knowing how to run a particular machine; it’s about how to lead a team of people with various backgrounds, experiences, and ideas of how things should be done.

    How to hone this skill:

    Although more complex than the rest, it all starts with an introspective look into your strengths and weaknesses. Then get a mentor or a coach who can bring out your leadership qualities so you can operate from a place of strength.

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    Learn more about the effective leadership types here:

    5 Types of Leadership that Help You Build a High Performance Team

    8. Improve Your Analytical Skills

    Are you good at taking large amount of data and interpreting them? Your skills could come in handy.

    Organizations are looking for people to make sense of the data around them, explain how it affects profitability, and make projections based on it. Best of all? You don’t need to be an accountant to be analytical.

    How to hone this skill:

    Try taking data interpretation classes online or at a community college. Learning Microsoft Excel or Access is also a plus. If you’re ambitious enough, you could consider getting additional certifications to up the ante.

    Take a look at these ways to help sharpen your analytical skills:

    What Are Analytical Skills and How to Strengthen Them For Success

    9. Don’t Discount Your Time Management and Prioritization Skills

    How good are you when it comes to deciding how important tasks are, organizing schedules, and coordinating plans?

    Should you be willing, there is a market waiting for you out there. Organizations and busy executives are always looking for talented individuals to outsource these tasks to.

    How to hone this skill:

    Although not everyone possesses secretarial superpowers, you can improve this skill by focusing on taking huge tasks and breaking them into smaller goals or steps in order to achieve a bigger goal.

    Here, you can learn to prioritize to achieve more:

    The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

    10. Embrace Your Creative and Critical Thinking Side

    Although it’s often believed that creativity is for the arts and right-brained people, I believe everyone is capable of being creative. In fact, most organizations recognize creativity as a vehicle that will drive successful inventions in the future.

    How to hone this skill:

    Try doing something fun. As simple as this sounds, you’d be surprised to learn how much. In fact, behavioral and learning scientist, Marily Oppezzo, says taking a walk might be all you need to get your creative juices flowing.[1]

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    Anyone can be creative, you just need the right way to train your brain:

    What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

    11. Don’t Stop Learning Tech Knowledge and Skills

    Being tech-savvy is a huge plus. If you have an affinity with computers, software applications and are abreast of technological improvements, it is a transferable skill that is worth highlighting.

    You don’t have to be a young college graduate with silicon valley dreams to work

    How to hone this skill:

    All you need is the determination and the readiness to learn. This article will give you some ideas on the types of skills to learn:

    How to Improve Your Computer Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

    12. Build Networks and Relationships

    You aren’t free from networking. Not at the moment. With your goal to switch to a different career, your networking skills will come in handy.

    Fortunately for you, networking doesn’t have to be so hard.

    How to hone this skill:

    Attend conferences and job fairs. Chances are you already have people in your network you can move you closer to your dream career.

    To enhance your networking skills, take these steps:

    How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

    Final Thoughts

    Although there are several people with the same qualification and degree(s) you possess, what ultimately determines hireability comes down to a myriad of things such as culture fit, how teachable you are, cultural sensitivity, inter-generational awareness, and your ability to navigate uncertainty.

    You have a chance to stand out by letting your dream companies know how these soft skills make you an invaluable asset, and how saying ‘YES’ to you is a win-win for both parties.

    Happy career switching!

    More Resources About Career Advancement

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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