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Making Fake Deadlines Real: Completing Projects with Self-Assigned Deadlines

Making Fake Deadlines Real: Completing Projects with Self-Assigned Deadlines
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    As a freelance writer, nothing annoys me more than a client who tells me, “Oh, just get it to me whenever you can.” I hate it! I need deadlines in order to schedule and prioritize my work. I do what I can to get clients to nail down a deadline, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. That’s when I have to go to Plan B: the ‘fake’ deadline.

    Fake is a bit of a misnomer — I should really refer to it as a self-assigned deadline. There is a reason that I call such deadlines fakes, though: there doesn’t really seem to be any sort of consequence for not completing the project on time, or even ever. I hear “whenever” from a client and I translate it to “never.” I’ve even worked it out logically. If a client doesn’t feel a project is important enough to have a deadline, it must not be important to her. I know I’m far more likely to procrastinate on a project that doesn’t feel important, and even if I get to it, I’ll dilly-dally on it. I won’t put out my full effort to getting it done and off my to-do list like I would for a time-sensitive project.

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    Following Through on Fake Deadlines

    My reasoning aside, though, I don’t get paid for projects that don’t get done. I have to make sure that I finish projects, even those without deadlines, so that I can move on to other work and other paychecks. I have to make those self-assigned deadlines feel real.

    Give the Client a Deadline: I’ve found that I can make a deadline real by getting a client’s approval for it. I may do nothing more than send out an email saying that I’ll have the project done by Friday — or any other specific date — but it’s enough to create an expectation in both the client and myself that I’ll be done by that deadline. Even a little bit of outside expectation can be enough to get me out of a procrastinating mindset. I’ve created such expectations with individuals other than my client, as well (there could be any number of reasons you wouldn’t want to pin down a specific date for your client). I find just telling a friend that I’ll be working on a given project today can get me moving. There’s still less of a consequence in not completing a task I told a friend about than a deadline I mentioned to a client.

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    Think About the Money: I’m afraid I’m quite the money-grubbing capitalist. One of my best motivators is thinking about where a particular paycheck is going to go. For instance, I may have an open-ended project that, if I just get it done before the end of the week, I should get the money in time to pay my rent. While money may not be the only reason that I work on a project, it is definitely an important aspect.

    Focus on the Client: I often do projects where I am the client — I’m the person assigning the deadlines, which can be a real problem for ensuring that the project gets done. Writing for my personal blog is a great example. It can be hard for me to convince myself to devote money to a project that isn’t going to immediately contribute to paying my bills and could be done at any time. I have to separate myself from the project and think of someone else as my client. For my blog, my readers might be my clients: they expect posts every so often and anything I can do to make my blog more reader-friendly is going to make my clients/readers happier.

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    Don’t Make It A Rainy Day Project: I think most of us have lists of things we’ll get to when we don’t have anything better to do — maybe on a rainy day. Sometimes projects with no due date in sight wind up on that list, pushed off until we have time for it. Well, I always have something better to do: I can get a head start on upcoming projects, bake cookies or read that book I’ve been dying to find time to read. I can’t allow projects that I actually intend to do to wind up on that list.

    Create Fake Rewards: I’ve found that rewarding myself for getting a job done is especially effective for short-term deadlines. For instance, I’ll tell myself that if I meet one of my ‘fake’ deadlines by the end of the day, I’ll make one of my favorite dinners. I try to scale the reward to the size of the project — I wouldn’t want to make my reward buying something more expensive than the payout for the project. But even something little can motivate me to just finish the project. I’ve heard of people making fake penalties for not following through on a particular assignment, but, personally, I’ve just never been able to follow through on that sort of punishment — it feels far more fake than my little rewards.

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    Do It Now: If I have a small project that I can easily get done in the time I have left today, I’ll do it. One of my biggest problems with self-assigned deadlines is that they will get pushed back in favor of more immediate due dates. So, if I find myself with time, I like to knock out work while I’m thinking about it. My only concern is letting clients think that I will always turn around a project that quickly.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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