Deadlines don’t care if you are a student, freelance worker, or big boss. For deadlines everyone is equal. Being able to meet deadlines is a combination of emotional control and ability to manage your time effectively.
Deadlines are usually associated with sleepless nights and tons of coffee, anxiety, and fear of missing some point, and this eternal question: “How to meet deadlines this time?”
Meeting deadlines will never become a problem for you again if you follow these simple 12 tips.
Do you know what’s the biggest wall to success of any project?
Simply getting started!
There’s a magical Zeigarnik Effect described by Kenneth McGraw in action that tells us that if we need to do something but feel stressed, overwhelmed, or tired, all we have to do is… to make the first step.
- If you want to write 1000 words, type 100 words first.
- If you want to work out, put on your sportswear, and go to the gym, etc.
Chances are, you’ll want to keep on doing it once you complete that first tiny step.
Being aware of this effect is especially helpful when you’re a student. Most probably, you have a few big projects that you need to start. Go ahead and start researching or writing a paper that you’ve been delaying for so long!
2. Set obtainable goals
A curious fact is that one of the goal killers and reasons of procrastination is excessive fantasizing.
According to the research on expectations vs. fantasies, your brain sabotages achievable goals by “building castles in the sky”. The researchers tested subjects on how fantasizing about their future was, and their efforts and performance were followed up for weeks or months after evaluating their expectations and fantasies.
For example, a group of people who were looking for a job. Those who were mostly dreaming about getting a job, had worse results. Two years after graduation, these “dreamers”:
- applied for less jobs,
- were offered fewer positions,
- had lower salaries (if they’ve been working).
So, make sure you have positive expectations rather than positive fantasies!
According to the researcher John Bargh, our smart brain attempts to simulate productive work when focused on small, mindless tasks just in order to avoid large tasks. This is a perfect way to delay getting started and fill your time.
Why does it happen?
The thing is that we’re prone to visualize the worst parts of that big task, and our mind is doing its best to avoid it.
So, this is one of the reasons why you don’t need to attain the entire project at once. Don’t scare your brain! Break down your project into smaller sub-projects that stand alone.
For example, imagine that a building is a massive project. The walls, roof, and basement of that building are the core sub-projects that make a structure. You can’t build the roof without building the walls first.
You may visualize a similar thing when you have a big, complex assignment to complete in your college. Look at this massive task and divide this project into smaller parts according to the next scheme:
- Select the fundamental sub-projects first. If you are writing a research paper, the main components would be the Introduction, Body, Conclusion, and List of sources used.
- Prioritize each sub-project. You can’t start writing the conclusive part of your research paper without creating its body. Just like it’s impossible to create the entire research paper without finding relevant sources – books, articles, etc.
- Break down sub-projects into smaller steps. For example, the smaller components of the body are paragraphs.
The structural vision of a project helps to move from general to specific elements. A list of specific steps that you have to make for each sub-project will show the realistic amount of work. Once you know your exact amount of work, you can easily determine how long it will take you to finish each sub-project.
Once you have your big project broken into small sub-projects, set a deadline schedule. Allocate a specified period of time to each sub-project. Knowing the start and the complete date of each step will give you a good feel of the entire picture.
What are the benefits?
Take a look:
- You won’t have to guess if you have enough time to complete the project on time. You will know your milestones.
- You won’t be distracted by thoughts, like “I wonder how much work is still left to be done?”. You will have a clear vision of how many steps you have to accomplish and when.
- You will be able to concentrate on the project itself instead of getting anxious about thoughts of possible failure.
- You will not worry if you can meet deadlines – you will know it for sure.
- You will save plenty of your energy and manage your time wisely.
Here are helpful tips for setting a deadline schedule step-by-step: Six Steps for Creating your own Mini-Deadlines.
It might be a surprise for you, but multi-tasking is not the best friend when speaking about time management. It may seem that doing several tasks simultaneously will help you complete projects faster.
However, the result is often the opposite:
- Doing a few tasks at a time is rather overwhelming.
- It is very easy to skip an important step in such a rush.
- Lists of uncompleted tasks give a feeling of no progress
There were conducted plenty of researches to find out how our brain works when we multi-task. All of them prove that people can’t multitask very well, even if they say they can.
According to Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, our brain often deludes itself. He says that we are mostly not able to focus on more than one thing at a time, instead, we shift our focus from one thing to another very rapidly. We switch our focus, so we can’t pay attention to everything around us simultaneously.
Don’t let multi-tasking disorganize you! Focus your time and efforts on just one task. Once you are done with it, move on to the next one. It will help you reach deadlines.
If you’ve been given homework in Math, Literature, and Economics, don’t learn everything the same day. Instead, devote Monday to Math assignment, Tuesday – to Literature, and Wednesday – to Economics. You’ll notice that this way you can focus better, therefore, you don’t waste your valuable time.
Exclude finished tasks from your list by crossing them out. It works as a great motivator.
Before you start working on a certain project, make sure that you can close the deadlines on time. If your professor wants you to complete a project by the end of the week, and you feel or know for sure that you are unable to cope with it due to preparation to a few other tests, let him know about it in advance and ask to extend your deadline.
Learn how to set deadlines in a smart way by answering the following questions:
- Do I need to deal with other priorities first? (For example, you may have a research paper you are still working on).
- How big is the project and how many stages does it include? What is the timeline of each step?
- Do I work alone or in a team? Are all team members aware of their timelines? How much time will it take these students to accomplish their tasks?
- Have I already set any deadlines before? What have I learnt from that experience?
Once you realize that you can’t make it on time, say it, and negotiate deadlines. Clear out all the details about the project. Write down immediately all due dates and ensure you understood everything right. Don’t move on until you are fully confident what’s waiting for you.
Want to keep you project alive and avoid any risk of procrastination? Use Action Method or Action Steps Method.
Let’s see how this strategy works.
Consider everything to be your project. Once you’ve got your project structured, make a list of tasks you have to accomplish and write them down as action steps. Don’t use the obscure phrases like “I need to complete this big project till Friday.” Use clear and short sentences starting them with action verbs:
- Get an assignment from a Math professor…
- Write an annotated bibliography…
- Make a draft of a literature review…
The trick is that verbs stimulate to action at first glance. Keep them short and precise. The clearer each action step is, the less chances that you’ll ignore or forget them.
Needless to say, during any studies certain delays or changes may happen. It may bring some kind of mess into the whole process and threaten keeping your deadlines.
What’s the solution?
Hold your back and add some reasonable extra time to the deadline. By allowing a kind of safety cushion, you attain some flexibility in shifting the deadlines. Moreover, it will let you study at your own comfortable pace and minimize stress.
Don’t underestimate project deadlines.
It is a common mistake to think that you have plenty of time when looking at the final date of your dissertation submittal coming in six months. Time runs fast and yesterday “plenty of free time” might turn to “the final deadline is tomorrow”.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to work in a rage pace to stick to deadlines. All you need is to start working as soon as possible. Always try to work in advance whenever you have such an opportunity.
Again, if you’re writing a dissertation, and you’ve completed one of the chapters earlier than you expected, don’t hesitate to go to the next step. Even if you have plenty of free time before the next due date comes according to your schedule. Just shift the deadline schedule to an earlier day.
If you work in advance, you’ll never be late!
One of the most popular reasons why people fail to meet deadlines is that they commit to more than they realistically can handle.
What you can do about it:
- Ask for help. Once you feel that you are not going to meet the deadline, communicate it. Explain that you are willing to finish the task on time, but you need some support from someone else. For instance, you might ask your professor to let you complete your task together with your mate, or in a group. It is much better to admit that you’ve committed too, much rather than to fail in meeting the deadline.
- Learn from mistakes. If you failed in meeting deadlines, take some time and analyze your mistakes to avoid them in future. Any student may fail meeting the deadline, however, some of them make conclusions, and try not to do it again. Others keep on doing it during all their college period.
According to Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, simply keeping your friend nearby is able to increase your productivity. As David Nowell, a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts says, there’s a concept in ADHD treatment called the “body double”: distractible people achieve better results when there is some body double near them, not even a coach or an assistant.
Think about it and call your friend next time you have a complicated task from your professor, unless you know this person will distract you.
To manage deadlines better, once you have a certain piece of your work done – send it to your mentor for his feedback to streamline your efforts.
Don’t worry if the work doesn’t look like a completed project. By keeping communication, you will show you are in progress and will keep yourself on track.
Otherwise, you might find out at the end of your assignment that it was wrong and you’ve wasted plenty of time.
That’s what you should avoid by all means when studying independently.
Have you ever had a feeling when there is not enough time in a day? Despite working overtime, you still have not much progress. The reason might be hidden in time wasters.
The time wasters are the meaningless activities that consume our time every day.
Here how works one of time management strategies.
According to “Eisenhower Principle” of workload and priorities organization, everything we do can be classified as:
- Important and urgent (like preparation for an upcoming test)
- Important but not urgent (some long-term assignments)
- Urgent but not important (desires of other people)
- Not urgent and not important (meaningless activities or things – the time eaters).
You’ve been seduced by a time waster if you’re:
- Browsing internet with no purpose in mind
- Distracted by chatting with friends on social nets
- Checking your email again and again during the day
- Constantly cleaning an email from spam
- Looking through meaningless magazines
- Making too many coffee breaks when studying.
These are just a small part of time wasters. Try to make your own list and calculate the time you spent on time eaters during your ordinary study day. You will be surprised!
Another thing that may change your attitude to deadlines is making a checklist. Building an offline or online deadline calendar for the project activities will make you more aware of the tasks you have to do.
The checklist could include columns with:
- the name of each task,
- the start day,
- time needed for task completion,
- check status,
- and the final deadline.
Fill in the calendar backwards: state the final deadlines first, and then move on through the calendar by writing down the intermediate dates. The checklist will always help you to keep your eye on the ball and you will never fail to meet deadlines. Even with the most complicated assignments.
An overdue deadline can cause an important project (paper writing, a test, etc.) failure. Yet, deadlines might be extremely stressing for many people, even for the most organized ones. However, by changing your time management strategies you can avoid stress, do everything on time, and become a straight A student.
If you have some more interesting ideas related to the topic, you are welcome to share them with us!