The Ultimate Power Of A Deadline

Does it seem like you are drowning in things that must get done? It’s frustrating, you get behind and things keep piling up. You end up jumping from crisis to crisis. Some days you feel like a fire fighter in the middle of a burning building.

By using the power of setting a deadline for yourself and planning the work that needs to be done, you can get out of crisis mode and start kicking butt on your to-do list.

Set a deadline for yourself

  • Pick the most important task or project and set a “Must Be Completed By Date” for it.
  • Set this as a top priority. Do not give yourself a way out of it.
  • Treat it like your job depends on it. Why do we bend over backwards for our boss, but we slack off when it comes to getting our own tasks completed?

Eat the elephant one bite at a time

  • Thoroughly break down the bigger tasks into small, easy to complete sub-tasks. Tools like mind-map programs can help you break down the tasks.
  • Give time estimates to each sub-task.
  • Prioritize by precedence or time constraints.  If things need to get done in order, be sure they are scheduled that way.
  • Bundle similar tasks to reduce thrash.

Plan your schedule

  • Schedule in all of the activities that you are already committed to.
  • Determine if you can put off or get out of anything already scheduled.
  • Schedule in the sub-tasks based on priority.
  • Plan in some “slack” into your schedule for unexpected changes.  Don’t fill your schedule completely, stuff happens.

Do, or do not. There is no try. -Yoda

Do the work

  • Start each task as planned on your calendar.
  • Focus on that task by eliminating distractions like email notifications, phone calls, twitter, etc.
  • When each task has been completed, check it off of your list.
  • As you discover new tasks that must be done, add them to your list.

Update your schedule daily

  • Move newly discovered tasks from your list to your schedule
  • Determine if you will still complete your work before your deadline.
  • Adjust your calendar accordingly.  This is where the “slack” time can be used.
  • Modify estimates if you find that you generally over or under estimate your work.
  • Keep track of other, non-related tasks that invade your schedule.

If you get behind

  • Review your estimates and adjust accordingly.
  • Look for things that may not “need” to be completed by the deadline. Get rid of any “fluff”.
  • See if you can enlist any help with the project.

Wrap up the project

  • Review the estimates and look for patterns. Where you consistently over or under time? Adjust accordingly for future planning.
  • Look for ways to improve your methods.
  • Write down what when well and what went wrong.

While this seems like a ton of work that isn’t actually getting your project done, it will give you direction and focus that allows you to complete your work on time.

For weeks now, I’ve been drowning in a to-do list of tasks for a major project. Each day I sit down at my computer and stare at a blank screen wondering which of the 20 or 30 important tasks I should get started on. Normally I would pick which ever one seemed the least daunting and start on it. This frequently ended up with me loosing focus and wandering off to check my twitter account or catch up on what was going on in an online forum.

A few days ago, Kelly and I decided that we needed to stop wandering around and get serious about getting this project done. We set a deadline for ourselves. One that we are going to keep, regardless of what it takes.

Eating the elephant in very small bites.

Since we did that, we followed the above steps and wrote down the main tasks. Broke those up in to small, easy to estimate and track sub-tasks. We prioritized them and started working on them. This weekend we completed 12 of the 21 sub-tasks that we defined. This is way more productivity than I’ve seen in the last few months.

As we continue to work through our list, we look ahead and repeat the process.

By using the power of the deadline, we have brought a new level of commitment and clarity to our work.

Use a deadline for your next big project and see how much it helps you get done.

Have you used deadlines for your work in the past? How did it work out for you? Share with us in the comments.

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