Deadlines. We all have them. I don’t care if you’re a student, a parent, a CEO, or President of the United States, you deal with deadlines regularly. Even bills could be considered deadlines. If you are one of those people who suddenly has to work extra hours to meet a deadline that seemed to loom sooner/faster than you expected, then you need help with managing your deadlines.
Here are some tips and techniques that could help:
Give Yourself a “Soft Deadline”
Aim to have your project/work completed ahead of schedule. How much depends on the deadline. If you’re given 1 week to complete something, try to finish 1-2 days earlier. If you have months, try a week or two earlier. If you can psych yourself out to think of this as the actual deadline, even better. Having work completed ahead of time is both a huge stress relief, and gives you extra time to double-check and tweak if needed.
Break It Down
Break your project down into steps.
- List out all the steps of a project. Start higher level. For example, your first pass at the list might just say “make presentation.”
- Break your steps down more if needed. For example, make presentation becomes analyze the data, gather materials, outline, create presentation materials, etc.
- Write the tasks down in the order you’ll need to complete them.
- Include how long you think that individual task with take you.
- Note any specific deadlines for parts of the project (sometimes there are sub-deadlines involved)
Back It Up
Use backward planning to set your plan in place.
- Start from your soft deadline and move backwards task-by-task.
- Adjust the schedule as needed until it fits your time frame. There are a lot of ways to adjust. Here are a few:
- double up tasks
- add extra time on certain days or weeks
- shorten amount of time you’ll take on certain tasks
- ask for help
- Write your plan down. You can use a few methods for this including:
- a simple checklist
- a project management software or Gantt chart
- put it on your calendar
- Don’t wait to get started – sooner is always better.
- Adjust your schedule as you move through the project.
A Few Extra Tips
- Project Interruptions: Pay attention to other projects, deadlines, appointments, holidays. Make sure to plan those into your timing.
- Feedback Time: Make sure you include some time for feedback (from your boss, from your customer, from your teacher, from your kids, from trusted advisors, from other members of the project, and so on). And then additional time to incorporate any of that feedback.
- Manage Your Stakeholders: Clear communication, early and often, with the people to whom you owe the work will always save you time, trouble, complications, and often missed deadlines down the road.
- Get Ahead Moments: There are times when you’ll actually have some downtime. Doesn’t happen often, I know. But it does happen. Those are great moments to get ahead on your project. The more ahead you can get, the less stress down the road.
- Utilize Your Calendar: Make appointments for key benchmarks (the bigger tasks that need to get done by a very specific time). Make appointments to block off time to work on the project uninterrupted. If your project is recurring (say every 6 months), make an appointment to remind yourself to start preparations.
Project managers will likely recognize many of these tips. Break It Down and Back It Up will get you to something that could easily fit into a traditional Gantt chart. If you struggle with meeting deadlines, start with the basics I’ve outlined and get used to the process. But I would recommend taking a basic project management course (not software but theory). I’ve found those to be helpful with ideas for personal time/project/deadline management.