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How To Conquer Any Deadline

How To Conquer Any Deadline

Deadlines are a difficult but inevitable part of life. From work projects to planning big events in your personal life, learning how to conquer any deadline will make you more efficient and productive and give you confidence that you can take on any task you need to.

Start With Backward Planning

If you have a deadline, whether it’s to write an article, finish a work project or get ready for a vacation, you probably have a pretty clear idea of what the end of the project is going to look like. You also probably know how much time you have until you need to get to that end point. (If you don’t have a firm deadline, make one up. That makes planning and actually getting the thing done a lot easier.)

So, to get going on your project plan, start at the end instead of the beginning. You know what finished looks like, so what’s the thing you have to do right before you call it finished? And what before that? And before that?

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If you can work backward through the steps you need to take to finish your project, it will make it a lot easier to know where to start and what to do every step of the way to meet your deadline.

For example if you’re planning a vacation, the last thing you’ll do is get on the airplane. Before that you have to get to the airport, pack your bags, set up care for your animals and house while you’re gone, pick a place to go, and research possible destinations and when you’d like to travel. Now you know where to start.

Take Small Steps

Backward planning gives you the broad strokes of what you need to do to meet a deadline, but sometimes they can still be pretty big jobs. If you’re writing a book, editing may be one step on your plan, but that still feels pretty overwhelming, which can set you up for procrastination.

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Instead of looking at the task in big chunks, think about how you can divide those into smaller steps that would be more manageable. For instance you can think about editing a chapter a day, or one in the morning and one in the afternoon, instead of looking at editing as one big thing that needs to be done. That way you’ll constantly be making progress that will build on itself instead of feeling overwhelmed by your project.

Set Little Deadlines

Once you have your small steps in place you also need to set little deadlines. I know the thought of more deadlines probably doesn’t make you very happy, but I promise it will take stress off you to have benchmarks (go ahead and call them benchmarks, or goals, or something other than deadlines if it makes you feel better, but know that they are deadlines) to keep you on track, especially with a big project.

Planning a wedding? You know your wedding date, so you can backward plan all the vendors you need to contact and things you need to do. Make a deadline for having each of these decisions made and you’ll feel a lot better about all the things you have to do. It will also keep you from putting off those decisions if you can stick to the timeline, which will ease some of the stress of planning.

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For a work project you can do the same thing. What do you need to have done each day or each week to meet your deadline? Put it on your calendar and commit to getting it done, one piece at a time.

Take Action

Now that you have a plan complete with little steps and tiny deadlines in place, it’s time to take action. What’s one little step you can take right now that will get you closer to done? And what can you do after that? Don’t delay!

Remember, there’s no penalty for finishing early, and it’s great to use the momentum of beginning to get a good start on a project rather than using the stress and pressure of the deadline to motivate you.

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Celebrate Your Success

Once this plan has worked for you, remember to reward yourself. Meeting big deadlines — heck, even meeting small deadlines — can be hard, and you need to honor that by doing something special for yourself. That could mean taking a day off, going for a walk after work, eating at a favorite restaurant, buying a new book, whatever little token of appreciation you can give yourself for a job well done.

Remember how good that feels and you’ll remember that planning and taking small steps is the best way to conquer a deadline.

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Sarah White

Freelance Writer, Editor, Professional Crafter

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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