meeting deadlines

in Becoming an Expert

11 Life-Changing Strategies for Meeting Deadlines

This post is by Andrea Nordstrom of The Art of ADD.

I have recently discovered that the blogosphere is without doubt one of the most proliferative realms of the Internet. Blogging is not only a casual hobby but an essential business strategy for any entrepreneur in the new economy.

But it’s a competitive arena to step in to, one whose success depends on your ability to “… ruthlessly focus your efforts on things that work, and stop spending precious time on things that don’t” (Think Traffic, Corbett Barr). The same advice could be applied to almost any self-initiated venture, especially business. As projects approach their deadline, the tendency towards herculean outputs means you need to be just as clear on what not to do as you are what to do.

Sticking with the original example of a blog, it can be an exciting venture but also entails more work and dedication than most people predict. Corbett et al at Think Traffic and its brainchild – Start A Blog That Matters (see right sidebar!) – offer some incredibly sound and useful advice on all aspects of blogging – from creating content right through to attracting and maintaining your audience.

But – like any project – when you throw all the tasks in the air at once, juggling them while balancing the rest of your life on one foot, deadlines serves as ubiquitous sources of pressure. In short, the week approaching a deadline can be a stressful time.

It can be, but doesn’t have to be.

During the final week of a deadline, most of your time is going to be dedicated to two things:

  1. the launch or completion of your project
  2. anything that supports the first point

It’s not that you won’t do anything else, but you probably won’t think about much else.

There are some key strategies to help you get through the crunch, to free up more of your time and mental space. Start thinking about these things now, and you will ensure a smoother passage through this critical time, one that is perhaps a little frenetic but equally exciting and memorable. After all, it is the final push towards the realization of your goal in this project, something you should be proud of and want to remember fondly.

1. Pay it Forward

Any other essential activities that can be done ahead of time, should be done ahead of time. If you have bills that come due that week, pay them early if you can. If your fridge is empty, fill it. If you’ve been feeling guilty because you haven’t called great aunt Gertrude in months, do it now. You need mental space at your disposal, so clear it by anticipating distractions and dealing with them now.

2. Simplify

The law of parsimony says that the easiest option is usually the best option.

Streamline as many of your “activities of daily living” as you can. You know that subsisting on caffeine and junk food will leech your energy stores and foggy your focus. Plan and shop for meals in advance, preferably simple but palatable and nutritious ones. Simplify even further by keeping to the same meals every day. In The Four Hour Body, best-selling author Tim Ferriss advocates for this simple truth: people are more likely to adhere to meal plans when they require little thought or effort. Food is fuel right now – it doesn’t need to be sophisticated. Save the fine dining for later.

Exercise and sleep, as we all know, are the other foundations of mental clarity. Plan to start your day with a bit of exercise, and end it with relaxation to facilitate sleep. Neglecting these things does not give you more time for your project, it only ensures that your head is not really in the game, so to speak. A nurtured mind and body get more done. Bear in mind that you may not spontaneously find time to exercise or naturally get yourself to bed on time, so you may need reminders. The alarm clock that wakes you up in the morning can be reset as a reminder that you also need to go to bed!

3. Create Your Space

If you’re in the habit of working in a chaotic and haphazardly organized environment and it works for you, then keep doing whatever works. However, it is easy to let normal habits slip during this crucial time. That’s ok too, but stuff all over the place could be a distraction and keep you from focusing on what’s important. Getting your space ready in advance includes getting things organized, and making sure you have everything you need. Resource books, account passwords (in case you forget), favourite coffee mug, Best of ABBA CD (kidding) … keeping them all together and easily accessible, saves you time later searching for them.

You may have to consider unconventional tactics when creating your ideal work space. I have small children whose need for order is non-existent and whose whimsical play habits create never-ending clutter and chaos around our home. A large box stuffed to the brim with Lego, Hot Wheels and Barbie accessories provides clutter-respite until my crunch week is over. They still get a few toys – poor things will have to use their imaginations.

4. Minimize Distractions

You know the things that get in the way of fruitful labour, by way of the time you lose when doing them. For a few hours a day, you may need to unplug your land line phone or turn off your cell. Turn off instant messengers and banish email to a set time of day. You can even install extensions on your web browser that limit your time spent on social media websites. Decide right now what parameters you need to put around potential distractions so that you can preempt them later.

5. Minimize Interruptions & Solicit Support From Others

Explain to the people in your life that you may have to go “off-the-grid” for the week; you won’t be promptly responding to every phone call or email but you will get in touch with news of your completion when the big day comes. Most people who care and support what you are doing won’t mind at all, especially when you explain how important minimal distractions are to your success.

6. Reward Key People for Their Support

Colleagues, spouses/partners, and children should be rewarded for their efforts in giving you the space and time you need to get your work done. Thanking them openly, articulating the role they play in your success, and conjuring ideas for how you will celebrate together when you’re done acknowledges the fact that your project has a direct impact on them too, and shows your appreciation for their support.

7. Let Some Standards Go

It’s only a short time in the span of your life. Floors can go unswept, your face is fine naked and the same t-shirt and sweats will do for a few days. Showering is optional, but I highly recommend it. It wakes a person up, whereas stench can be a big distraction. The point is – you don’t have to do everything as well as you would normally do it. Mediocrity in the rest of your habits is okay when you are channeling your brilliance into your work.

8. Find Your Focus

Know what conditions you work best in and what activities stimulate your acutest attention. Plan to incorporate those conditions and activities into your schedule.

As an adult with ADHD, I find it hard to stay focused on one task for long periods of time. I know that about me, so I have got creative about working with it. Today I put in an eleven hour day. I did several two-hour work stints, vacillating between the library, park, cafe and even the pub. Sessions were punctuated by short break periods en route to each new place. Just me, my laptop and two cheeky Long Island iced teas (side note – alcohol is not usually recommended). It kept me focused by satisfying my need for movement and change, allowing me to capitalize on enhanced attention span during each stint of work.

Find what works to stimulate your attention, and plan to incorporate it into your day. Think about times in the past when you have been most productive, and what circumstances surrounded your routine at that time.

In Find Your Focus Zone, award-winning author and psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino explains that people are most productive when they are in flow – fully immersed in the activity at hand, and energized by the level of involvement and focus. That point of flow usually resides somewhere between the states of under and over-arousal, she says, and you may need to do things to rev yourself up or wind yourself down, depending on your current state. Figuring out what environment inspires a state of flow for you can amplify your productivity by making sure each minute counts.

9. Match Your Activity to Your Level of Focus

Writing and designing require a huge amount of mental effort for most people but focus and inspiration don’t flow freely from a never-ending spout. When you haven’t got the inspiration you require to create amazing content, apply your efforts elsewhere. If your strategy requires you to make phone calls, send emails, or network on social media, these more “menial” tasks can be done with little mental effort. Be careful though – it is easy to lose a lot of time doing the peripheral, but less important tasks surrounding your project.

10. Be Prepared to Change Course and Get Help

If you are getting bogged down by one particular aspect of your project – an aspect that doesn’t stimulate you, wears you down, or is taxing your skill level – rethink your strategy and recruit help. Pride and over-attachment to your chosen strategy wastes time that could be better spent on other things – things you are good at. Recruit help from colleagues or friends who have the necessary skills or consider hiring a contractor or freelancer.

11. Take Strategic Breaks – Actually, Several of Them

It’s human tendency to work harder and longer when a deadline is approaching. Studies show that working continuously on one task without a break does not improve productivity, but actually hinders it. Jonathan Fields, author of Uncertainty, articulates how this need is actually biologically based.

Without breaks, the prefrontal cortex (CEO of your brain) overloads and can’t work efficiently. The result: you become an anxious, irritable, reclusive mess. That leaves you open to fear and doubt about your project, and no resilience to combating it. So, breaks aren’t sidestepping your project, they are refueling the “CEO” so he or she can keep on doing great work.

No matter what strategies you use to manage yourself and your time as your deadline approaches, remember this one last piece of advice: the deadline will come and go but what you learn about yourself and how you operate under pressure will serve you for a lifetime. Take the experience of persevering through this crunch, and learn from it so that you can call upon it in future ventures.

***

What experiences have you had in dealing with a deadline?

Share your comments so that other readers can benefit from your wisdom!

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