Deadlines have become so synonymous with work that it has become a much-dreaded term when you think about big projects. But, deadlines don’t have to be stressful or overwhelming. It is a useful concept that helps you prioritise your tasks and create a sense of urgency to help you become productive. Parkinson’s law states that work will expand as much as the time you allow for its completion, so having a deadline is helpful to install some time constraints to push you to get things done, instead of letting you procrastinate and put off work forever.
How can we make deadlines work for us, instead of the other way around? Below are some of Working Den’s tips to make deadlines more useful and less stressful.
Create a plan
When a project seems so big and intimidating that you don’t know where to start, the natural reaction is frustration, confusion, and procrastination to avoid these negative feelings. If this is the case, creating a plan, where you analyse the intended outcome and identify systematic steps to achieve those goals, should be your first task.
When you create this plan, identify the components of this big project, and how they can be broken down into small tasks that you can complete within a day. In your plan, you should also identify the team members you will need to work with to complete your tasks, as well as the time frame you will allow for each task. Once you have listed all of the tasks involved in a big project and their respective deadline, it will be useful to organise them into a Gantt chart. This chart will help you visualise your project and the timeframe for each task, so you can prioritise important tasks and organise your calendar accordingly.
This step is arguably the most important one when you approach a new project, because it divides a big project into small, achievable tasks and a systematic way to help you tackle each task. When you have completed this task, a big project will seem much less intimidating, which will motivate you to get things done.
Choose “good” over “perfect”
Have you ever heard of the phrase: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”? Striving for excellence is a good thing, but sometimes perfectionism can be crippling as well. For perfectionists, their work needs to be perfect, or they would do nothing at all. When perfectionists start a new project that intimidates them, the fear of not being perfect leads them to procrastinate and miss deadlines, because they’d rather have nothing at all than an imperfect result.
However, striving for good work is a perfectly valid option that is often overlooked, because it’s not glamorous or exciting. If you find it difficult to start a new project, ask yourself if it’s for fear of failures. If this is the case, you should adjust your expectations to “try your best” instead of “try to be perfect”. Changing your perspectives and attitude towards work will remove the mental blockage and motivate you to get started.
Ask for help when you need to
The fear of asking for help is so real, especially if you are afraid of being seen as incompetent or inexperienced. But you will be surprised to know that your co-workers are more willing to help than you think! This is especially true when you work in a big team, because everyone has a different level of experience and unique outlooks that can add insights and provide contexts to help you understand your problems. When you face challenges in big projects, asking for another person’s perspectives and advice can help you unlock new solutions.
So don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need advice. When you face a bottleneck in your project, identify people whose expertise may be relevant to your project, and ask them for their insights and how they would approach this problem. The advice may not always be applicable, but it will help you view your issue through a different lens and help you come up with more creative solutions.
This tip may seem counter-intuitive, but rest is just as important as work when it comes to productivity. Stress and lack of sleep can cause fatigue, loss of focus, depression, and other negative effects to your physical and mental health. When you feel stressed out, overwhelmed, and tired, it’s better to take a break and come back refreshed the next day, rather than soldiering on and suffering decreased productivity in the process.
If you have a short break, try these quick de-stress exercises to calm your mind and boost your productivity. After work, you can attend to your personal needs, either by doing physical exercises, have dinner with your loved ones, or take a relaxing bath and a good night’s sleep. These activities may not help you get things done right away, but will recharge your energy level and help you come back stronger and ready to conquer difficult tasks.
Just do it!
There is no substitute for hard work. When you have done all the steps above, it’s time to just jump into it no matter how dreadful work may feel. If you still find that you are easily distracted and cannot focus on work, you can use a pomodoro timer to divide your day into small intervals. You can use the timer to focus on getting things done for 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minute break, and repeat this cycle until the end of your day, or until you’ve completed the tasks required for the day. This is a proven method to discipline yourself and help you be more productive in a shorter time. Meeting deadlines will no longer be a cause for stress if you follow all of these tips!