Deadlines can be hugely beneficial. They let you know what to prioritize and stop you from procrastinating during working hours.
At least, this is what they should do.
Many people find deadlines a major cause of stress in their work-life — usually because they leave work to the last minute or simply have too much to do. In either case, stress makes it extra difficult to meet deadlines.
Whatever is the case for you, these tips will teach you how to meet deadlines and work under pressure.
Why You Should Avoid Working Under Pressure
First, let’s consider why thinking ahead is so beneficial — whereas it’s a terrible idea to leave everything to the last minute and end up working under pressure. You may consider pressure a great motivator when, in fact, there are serious downsides to this way of working.
For one thing, the quality of your work is never as high as it could be when you work under pressure. You’ll need to rush through certain aspects and there’s a higher risk that you’ll make mistakes. In contrast, completing a task long before the deadline means you can focus on every detail. Plus, you have time to go back and check everything. You may see some of the work you’ve completed in a new light, which can provide inspiration for how you could improve some parts.
However, the top reason to avoid an all-nighter is that you may not be able to finish the work in time.
If you’re an employee, this will look unprofessional and you may lose respect from your employer. It could mean you miss out on a raise or a promotion.
If you’re an independent contractor, it may mean you lose out on any opportunity for repeat work with the client. If you’re finding work through a freelance platform, you may even receive a poor review that hurts your chances for future work.
How to Meet Deadlines at Work
When you consistently miss deadlines or often spend the last couple of days before a deadline working under pressure, changing your habits may be difficult. It will take hard work and dedication, but if you do put in the effort, you will be able to meet all your deadlines with ease.
1. Care About Your Deadlines
It will be most difficult for you to change your behavior if you’re missing deadlines because you don’t care about them. Remind yourself why meeting deadlines matters — for your company, reputation, and career as a whole.
If you do miss a deadline, it’s normal to feel bad. Instead of justifying the mistake (perhaps even blaming others) or becoming anxious about something you can’t change, use this as a learning experience. Remind yourself of the feeling the next time a deadline approaches and use this as motivation to never make the same mistake again.
2. Split Assignments into Smaller Projects
It can be difficult to get started when the project seems huge and unmanageable. The trick is to split large assignments into smaller tasks. You can then set yourself targets to complete each individual task — allowing plenty of time to meet the final deadline.
3. Equip Yourself with the Resources You Need
Once you know everything the assignment entails, make sure you have all the necessary resources to complete each stage. This could involve acquiring software or physical equipment or you may need to refresh your knowledge, do some research, or ask another team member for support with a particular aspect.
4. Communicate with Your Client or Boss
After assessing the project, it can be a good idea to go back to the person who assigned it — whether a client or a manager at your company. This is your chance to let the person know if you have any issues meeting the deadline. For instance, the project could involve more work than was initially apparent or it could take you time to gather resources, finish training, or recruit outside help. In addition, you should find out how important it is to meet the deadline and if there is any particular date (and time) when the project absolutely must be complete.
5. Create a List of Deadlines
It’s no good just adding your deadlines to a calendar. Think about it: how far ahead do you check your calendar? Typically, you may look at what you have for tomorrow and you probably assess the week ahead on Monday morning or Friday evening.
This is no good if you have projects that will take several days or weeks to complete. Even if you have smaller tasks on your calendar that you can finish within a few hours, you could still run into problems. For instance, if you have multiple projects running concurrently, you may end up with several tasks due within a few days of each other.
By all means, keep your deadlines on your calendar and add alerts. In addition, though, it’s a good idea to create a separate document that lists all the deadlines you have in order of due date. You can refer to this at regular intervals to ensure you stay on track.
6. Know Your Working Style
It may be tempting to start with the easiest tasks, but there’s a risk that the motivation to get stuck in with difficult activities will never come. A better strategy is to figure out when you work best.
Make a note of which times of day you’re the most alert and use these times for challenging work. Save the times when you struggle to focus (perhaps right after lunch or near the end of the day) for simpler activities. Creating a schedule like this will help you stay productive throughout the day.
7. Get Enough Sleep
If you find that you’re unfocused for the entire day and rarely alert, the likelihood is you’re not sleeping enough. It may be tempting to cut down on sleep to catch up on what you were unable to achieve during the day, but this will only exacerbate the problem. Make sure you consistently get enough sleep every night and you’ll find that you wake up refreshed and able to tackle anything.
8. Start Right Away
As soon as you’ve finished reading this article, start working on whatever assignment has the earliest deadline. Too often when we resolve to make a change in our lives, we decide to start on Monday next week or the first of the month. There’s no need to do this — you can start at any time, and it’s worthwhile starting now.
Top Tools to Help You Meet Deadlines
If you’re unable to motivate yourself to meet deadlines with willpower alone, use some apps and products to help you.
When a task gets tough, it’s tempting to quickly check your email — or you may suddenly remember something else you have to do. The Rescue Time app can show you where you’ve been spending your time to help you continuously improve. It also has a feature to block distractions, enabling you to stay focused on meeting your deadlines instead.
Remember the Milk
Another excellent app is Remember the Milk. You’ll find this invaluable if you’ve missed deadlines due to too many tasks on your plate or you’re struggling to stay organized. The app will send you reminders to stay on track, no matter what device you’re using.
“Do Not Disturb” Sign
Just short interruptions can set you back hours. You lose your momentum and have to push yourself to get back into the flow. Whether you’re working from home or at the company office, hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign somewhere visible can work wonders.
Note: don’t overuse the sign! Hang it up just when you’re working on something urgent that requires your full concentration. This will ensure that family members or coworkers take it seriously.
Time Management Books
Improving overall time management is crucial to ensure you meet deadlines. A good use of your free time (i.e. when you don’t have pressing deadlines) is to read about time management skills. To prevent you from needing to search through countless books, we’ve compiled a list of the best.
Finally, if you struggle to meet deadlines because you find the sheer amount of work and personal commitments stressful, Focus Booster can help. It uses the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks work down into short intervals. Focus Booster also allows you to include personal, fitness, and other goals to create a better work–life balance. You can use the tool online and through a mobile app.
Coworkers who always seem to meet their deadlines without issue may not be naturally good at organizing their time and at finding motivation. Meeting deadlines is a skill like any other and you need to work hard to improve it. If you slip up and need to pull an all-nighter (or, worse, you miss the deadline entirely), don’t beat yourself up. Just think about where you went wrong, adapt your strategy, and strive to do better next time.