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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.