9 Tips for Meeting All Your Important Deadlines

9 Tips for Meeting All Your Important Deadlines

Ben Franklin once quipped that there are only two certainties in life: Death and taxes. Thanks to the condition of the fast-paced modern workplace, we can add a third certainty to that list: Deadlines.

Whether you feel as if you are always juggling dozens of deadlines you can’t get a handle on or you just want to get a little better at your time management, meeting deadlines is an important part of everyone’s personal and professional lives.

Here are 9 tips to help you meet all your important deadlines - and stress less:

Stay Organized

The first step to ensuring that you’re meeting all your deadlines is to get organized. You can’t fully plan to meet your deadlines if you don’t have any way to handle listing out all the different deadlines you’ve got.

Whether you’re a paper person or a digital person, finding a method that works best for you is key to staying organized.

Any good organizational system - digital or analog - needs to have some common characteristics. Some of the things you need to look for in an organization system include:

  • Calendar for entering dates
  • A way to list your tasks, as well as any sub-tasks
  • A way to track your progress toward completing your tasks
  • A method for making notes
  • Flexibility to move things around as dates and commitments change

If you’re just starting out with getting organized, don’t over-complicate things. A complicated organizational system can easily become overwhelming and frustrating, causing you to spend more time organizing all your tasks and to-dos than actually working on them.

And as you work on getting organized, be honest with yourself if something isn’t working.

Even if you’ve invested some money in that fancy paper organizer or app that you were convinced would help you get organized, but what you bought isn’t working, cut your losses and move on. You’re better off accepting when a system is a failure and finding something else that does work than pushing through and getting overly invested in making the system you’ve got work.

Break Down Each Task

While you may think that “finish report” on your to-do list is sufficient, but the reality is that many things we see as individual “tasks” are really composed of multiple steps.

And when you’ve got a task that requires you to complete several steps before it’s “done,” it can lead to the feeling that you’re not making any actual movement toward your goal.

Rather than filling your to-do list with a list of things you need to produce, try breaking down each of those individual items into the various steps you need to take in order to finish that task. Breaking things down into their smallest portions not only helps you feel more accomplished each day, but it allows you to see the spaces in your day where you can squeeze even just a little more productivity.

For example, say you have to turn in a sales report by the end of the week. In order for that report to be finished, you have to pull numbers from various sources, enter data into a spreadsheet, compare that data to a previous report, and then put all your thoughts into a cohesive report.

If you’ve got 15 minutes before your next meeting, just sitting down and working on your report can seem daunting because you don’t really know where to start. Not only that, but you worry that, if you just spend 15 minutes on it now, you’ll leave in the middle of something important and won’t remember where you need to pick up next time you sit down to work.

However, if you’ve broken your report down into all the small individual tasks, you can more clearly see the individual steps you need to take, as well as identifying which pieces won’t take you very long. This will allow you to finish one small segment of the report in that 15 minute time window instead of sitting and wasting time, only to have to rush to catch up later.

To break down your products into individual tasks, sit down as soon as you get a new assignment and identify each step that you must take to get to the final product. Get as minute as necessary, and do your best to estimate the amount of time each of those steps will take.

Write these individual steps down or enter them into your task management software so you’ve got everything grouped together.

As you go about your day, you can schedule these individual steps, or schedule groups of steps, to help you better manage each assignment and keep some forward progress going each day.

Set Calendar Dates

The most important part of meeting deadlines is actually knowing when each of those deadlines is. You can’t turn a project in on time if you don’t keep careful track of when it’s due.

As soon as you are given a task or assignment, it’s crucial to write down the date it’s due. Whether you use a paper calendar or a digital one, capturing that due date right away will be the most important step toward ensuring it gets done on time.

Getting the project on your calendar as soon as possible helps you see exactly where your time is being required, helping you avoid overcommitting your time. Having too much on your calendar makes it even more difficult to meet your deadlines.

As soon as you’re able to sit down with your calendar, project out due dates for all the smaller pieces of each larger project.

Say you have a final project due September 12, but to complete that project you also have to conduct research, analyze the research, draft the project, put it through revisions, and create a presentation to showcase your accomplishments. Rather than just putting September 12 on your calendar as the final due date, work backward and assign separate due dates for each stage of the final project.

Having those individual dates on your calendar motivates you to work on the project earlier and  

If you keep putting it off and putting it off, then even the thought of starting becomes overwhelming and burdensome. This leads you into a cycle of delaying even further, putting you even farther behind in completion.

Rather than delaying, taking even a small bit of action as soon as you get a new task for your to-do list can help give you the push you need to keep going.

Track Your Progress

Just like not keeping track of when individual tasks and projects are due can easily cause you to miss deadlines, not knowing where individual projects stand can push you behind schedule.

Our memories are notorious for misremembering important details, such as whether we completed the task of pulling the data necessary to move forward on that annual report. You may think you did that simply because you thought about doing it, when you … didn’t actually complete the task.

Part of good task management is finding a system to track your progress on your tasks and projects.

If you’re using software, find something that shows you your progress toward completion in percentages, bars, or other visual methods. Some software also gives you a countdown of how long you have until the next due date so you can measure whether you’re on track for on-time completion or not.

For analog systems, checking off individual steps and tasks as you go can be helpful to seeing how much you’ve finished on a project. You’ll quickly be able to see if you’ve got more unfinished tasks than finished ones, and how much time you have before the deadline.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Sometimes, you can find yourself with more tasks and projects to complete than time available to do the work. This can cause you a lot of stress and, if you’re not careful, lead you to blowing past more deadlines than you actually make.

In times when you’ve got too much to do and not enough time, it’s essential that you delegate out the things that aren’t crucial for you personally to complete. This shifts them off your plate and onto someone else’s in the hopes that they get done on time.

When deciding to delegate tasks to someone else, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Make sure you’re delegating the right task to the right person. This means finding someone who has knowledge of the project or task already, possesses the skills to complete the task without a lot of oversight, and who has the time and bandwidth to complete the task.

When you delegate, clearly communicate why you’re delegating the task to that person. This should include what about that person and their capabilities made you feel they were a good fit, as well as how you hope they’ll be able to complete the task well.

Ensure that you’re giving the proper instructions, including any due dates, check-in requirements, any collaborators, and any other important information. The more specific you can be about the task and the results you’re looking for, the better.

Be available for questions and assistance, and check in on the final product before it gets sent off. This will help you provide any necessary feedback so the person can learn how to better complete the task in the future, and avoids having something sent in that doesn’t meet standards.

Don’t forget to thank the person once the task or project is completed. Make sure to point to something specific that their contribution offered, whether that was a positive extra to the project itself or allowing you the bandwidth to complete another important tasks.

Learn to Say “No”

Productivity isn’t always about getting a whole bunch of things done, but instead it’s about being selective about what you do. This means learning to say “no” to things that aren’t really going to move the needle when it comes to your career or personal goals, or that will overload you too much.

When someone approaches you with a new task, project, or commitment - personal or professional - stop and think about it before you agree.

Here are some things to ask yourself before agreeing to a task or commitment:

Is this essential? If turning down the request would cost you your job or otherwise put you or others in potential danger, you may not be able to say no.

Do I have time for it? This is a big one that many people often overlook. We underestimate our current time commitments (This is where a great organizational system comes in handy!) and take on too many things that we have no hope of accomplishing. Really evaluate whether you have the free time to devote to getting the task done on time, done well, and done with as little extra stress as possible.

Does it serve my goals? If your boss comes to you and asks you to handle a project that could make or break a future promotion you’ve been gunning for, it may be an easy “yes.” But if that request doesn’t align with your personal or professional goals, and you can say “no” without any penalties, it may be best to decline the request.

Am I passionate about it? Some demands on our time may not serve greater ambitions, but they excite us. If you are asked to take on a project that ignites a passion in you and you can fit it into your schedule, go for it!

The answer to all of these questions doesn’t have to be “yes” for you to take on the responsibility, but if you ask yourself every one of those questions and the answer is “no,” it’s probably best to pass.

Learn from Your Mistakes

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, things slip through the cracks and deadlines get missed.

Once you’ve realized that you’ve missed a deadline, own up to your mistake and find out what you can do to finish the task and move forward.

After the task is completed, sit down and reevaluate the failures and difficulties that led up to you missing the deadline. Did you not write something down correctly in your organizational system? Were you overcommitted? Did your social media feed become a little too enticing and you let it suck up your time?

Find where the failure took place - in multiple areas, if necessary - and think about how you can do better moving forward.

Moving forward could mean changing up your organizational system, finding a way to decrease your distractions, or planning to delegate some of your tasks in the future. Whatever your plan, put it in place and execute it so that you can avoid making the same mistake twice.

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