December 08, 2011

Deadlines: Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Time pressure and deadlines go together, particularly as a deadline approaches. If the last-minute efforts that go along with wrestling with deadlines are a source of stress, you can make your life easier by changing the way you think of deadlines.

  1. Keep deadlines at arm’s length. Finish a report or a repair the day before it is due. Send an email message an hour before it is needed. Mail checks a week in advance.
  2. Keep deadlines separate. If two deadlines come close together, make sure you know which one is first and what your priorities are. Either deliver both results well ahead of the deadlines, or get one out of the way so that you can focus on the other.
  3. Lower your standards early. When you realize that your plans are unrealistic, don’t lower your sights just a little. Reduce your expectations enough that you can realistically complete something with time to spare. A deadline says, “Don‘t get it right, but make sure you get it done!”
  4. Give up early. For an all-or-nothing deadline, like preparing a contest entry or food to take to a party, ask yourself if there is really time to produce something meaningful before the deadline. If the answer is no, don’t make the attempt. Jump ahead immediately to the next deadline.
  5. Remember what’s important. Deadlines are external events, but in your mind, you can attach the deadline to a goal of your own creation, and that’s when they become stressful. Your personal goals can be changed and moved, so if you can’t meet a deadline in the way you originally planned, focus on meeting the need and the opportunity that the deadline represents. In other words, remember that the deadline is not about you.

In the holiday season, a lot of activity may be crammed into a short time with little room for compromise in the schedule, but what people really want is for you to show up. It’s fine to take on the challenge of creating the perfect holiday, but don’t let your visions and plans get in the way of showing up for the holidays.

December is the busiest month for many people, and most of the time pressure that people face is unnecessary. During December I’ll be offering several ideas of simple ways to be less busy.


Anonymous said...

Deadlines are killing me right now...I'm constantly trying to meet deadline this month. Really really tired. Still haven't got the time to organise myself and do the things that important in my life.

Rick Aster said...

My experience has been that it is usually better to meet deadlines head-on than to try to find ways around them. I know that can’t be the ultimate answer, but as long as there is always another deadline, it is not really the deadlines you are up against, but the march of time.

And then, when you come out the other side and there is a day when there are no deadlines looming, make sure you recognize how valuable that day is.