Are you tired of chasing up deadlines and forcing yourself to produce a meaningful final product that meets the requirements of your boss or customer? I bet you are.
The key to successfully sticking to a deadline while keeping your productivity is making the deadline your friend. Sounds impossible? Actually, it is quite easy to achieve it if you approach it from the right angle. Do not put too much pressure on it, do not stress out and you will find yourself completely capable of meeting deadlines while keeping your performance results on the top.
Never forget that no matter what you do, you need to KISS!
Wait! What? Yes, you read that correctly – this abbreviation is the key to being successful both at work and in your free time and can do magic when you need to find your mojo and be more productive while working on a tighter deadline.
So, here is the first tip that you need to follow in your work, no matter with how strict deadlines you need to work or how many tasks you need to perform in order to get the job done:
1. KISS – Keep it short and simple
No matter if you are writing an academic essay or computer code the trick is to make things simple and to divide the task into smaller chunks that take less time to complete.
Confucius said that “Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated”. The saying is particularly true when it comes to working on a project and meeting a specific deadline. Simplifying a task is the core to successfully meeting the deadline and staying productive all the way through.
To be successful in meeting deadlines, you need to learn how to set them. Setting the deadline correctly means that you have already completed half of the work. Here are 10 tips that will make your life easier when it comes to your sanity at work. They are simple to apply but drive great results, especially when you get into the habit of using them.
2. Divide and conquer
What is the divide and conquer strategy? Basically, it is one power that breaks another power into smaller pieces in order to take control of them one by one. The strategy also implies taking control of the funds and resources of the conquered “enemy”.
The principle is very useful at work, especially if your deadline is longer than a day. Break the task down into smaller more manageable pieces. A longer deadline is less motivating. When you feel that you need to move a mountain in a day, you are not eager to start work, aren’t you?
But what about having to complete a 10-minute task? Breaking the project into smaller actionable chunks of 10-minute segments is a revolutionary way to improve your productivity. It can even turn into a race with yourself – what more can I do in these 10 minutes – write the outline of a report, sort out the e-mail list of customers by their preferences, etc. You can set a timer that indicates when the time has passed in order to avoid staring at the clock.
If 10 minutes are too short as a period for you, choose a different time frame – 30, 60 or 90 minutes but not much longer.
3. Use backward planning
Backward planning is quite efficient in case your project has a tendency to get prolonged. Set a deadline first and then choose the best approach to achieve it. The strategy makes use of Parkinson’s law, which basically states that an action can take you as long as the time you have dedicated to it.
Say that you need to write an e-mail and no other important task for the day. You may spend hours choosing the right emojis to include or the font that best matches your current mood, etc. If you give yourself half an hour, however, you will focus on the essence and finish the task in time without too much procrastinating. This is the key to being productive in what you do.
4. Make your deadlines urgent
In order to complete your task, it is better to set a deadline that implies urgency. Imagine that you have to write a report that is due in 2 months. The chances are that you will put it off till the very last moment and then probably be able to finish it only after pulling an all-nighter.
If there is no sense of urgency, you are constantly going to turn to things that are more urgent or simply funnier. The solution: make the hardest project the most urgent one. Set a deadline as close to the present moment as it can be and start working on it.
5. Mark your progress
In order to be really productive mark your results and not the time it has taken you to achieve them. By splitting the task into smaller bits and celebrating each cornerstone, you get a sense of accomplishment that motivates you to go ahead. You want more and more of these little victories, which makes meeting your deadline a much happier process than you have thought.
6. Include regular reviews
If you have a longer deadline, make sure to include regular reviews to check that you are on track. In case you have a month to complete a task, review your progress at least every week. You will be able to analyze what went wrong and what worked well and plan more efficiently your next steps.
7. Don’t set robot deadlines
You are a living and breathing human being that needs to eat, sleep and well, have fun. Keep this in mind when you set your deadline. You are not a robot that can work 16 hours in a row to complete a task. A death march has done good to no one. And even if you succeed in completing such a strict deadline once, you definitely don’t want to turn this into a habitual approach to work. Give yourself time to relax and distract in order to be more productive.
8. Think about the Hofstadter’s Law
When setting a deadline, especially for a more complex project, it is good to take into account Hofstadter’s Law. Its idea is that anything usually takes much longer than you think. So, how to determine a viable deadline then? A common joke in the IT sphere says that you need to double the time you think you need and then add 6 months to it. If we put the joke aside, the important thing is to be patient and realistic about your abilities and to give yourself sufficient time to complete a task, especially a complex one.
9. Put your deadline in writing
Any deadline longer than a day needs to be written down. Once you put it in writing it becomes a goal and not a mere intention. People tend to be more responsible towards written goals and promises than to words.
Besides, when writing it down, you can also make use of the divide and conquer strategy and set separate deadlines for each smaller actionable chunk. And you know what? This will also help you measure your results and ward yourself after each achievement.
10. Determine your project: Cheap, fast or good?
In his book My Start-Up Life, Ben Casnocha says that a project can have only two of the main three features of any task – good, cheap, fast. Who are we to argue? So, next time when you think of a viable deadline for your project, first determine whether it will be good and fast or cheap and good. Then, set a deadline that meets these specific criteria and directs your efforts to achieving the goal.
You can look at this as another form of prioritizing. What is the most important thing for the task? Is it to complete it fast? Does the price matter? How important is quality on the overall ROI? Dig a bit deeper into the matter and you will come with the right deadline that also sets the tone of your entire work on the project.
Bonus tip: Find the weak link
No matter what we think or do, there is always a weak link. By managing to successfully identify it, you are able to save your plans. Figure out what can take you longer or possibly even ruin the project and complete it first.
By having an idea of what to expect, you can format your deadlines accordingly and work with less pressure.
When you start applying the tips above, you will see how your work life will improve significantly and your day will flow smoothly without much stress. Work smarter, not harder is the motto of the successful entrepreneurs and you can apply it in every aspect of your work and why not personal life as well. Do not try to multitask, as well. This is not so efficient as we lure ourselves to think. Better focus on one thing and complete it, instead of shifting your attention constantly between tasks. Make it as simple as having lunch – first the appetizers, then the main dish and the desert comes at the end. Having all of them at once won’t taste that good. Same is with work – break it down into chunks and devour them one by one, rewarding yourself at each achievement.
Once you have mastered the art of meeting deadlines, do not be selfish and share the knowledge with your colleagues. Adopt the “Been there, done that, got a T-shirt” attitude. Do not be ashamed to be proud of the work you have done and learn to accept the praise you deserve.
Last but not least, never forget to communicate – with your team, peers, superiors. This is the best way to clarify any misunderstanding and avoid unnecessary rework and wasted time.