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How To Conquer Any Deadline

How To Conquer Any Deadline
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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 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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