Let me start by saying I struggle with deadlines. I'm not Mr Perfect. I take on way too much, I get overwhelmed, I say yes when I should say no and every once in a while I have a bit of a meltdown. However, I rarely miss important deadlines. Somewhere in there I manage to get a lot done, mostly to deadline, and I have tried really hard to get better at it.

Over the years I've learned a few tips. These are the ones that I think can really help if you struggle with deadlines and you would like to change.

1. Start immediately by breaking the project into small chunks
We've all heard this, personally I've found it really useful for getting things done. But there are two key points here - start immediately and break the project into chunks. By doing both of these you will get a solid head start on any project and it doesn't feel anywhere near as daunting.

2. Block time to start working on the task or project right now
If you don't allocate time, quality time, (and stick to it) you probably won't treat the project as a priority. So you will do it when you get the time, which of course is you will leave it to the last minute and be stressed out and overwhelmed and do a sub standard job (even if the client doesn't see that - you know the truth).

3. Set false deadlines
I do this when I travel. I tell a little white lie about which day I am actually leaving so I can have a day of peace to get stuff done. Basically idea means reinventing the deadline - remove all evidence of the actual deadline, and put a new one into your calendar, notes, whiteboards etc - and make it one week earlier. If you get it done - awesome, and you look super professional getting the project in early. If you need more time - perfect.

4. Declare your deadlines publicly
One of the best things I did with deadlines was to put a whiteboard in my office where all of my team's deadlines were clearly visible. There was nowhere to hide, everyone checked the deadline board daily - and the non performers were shamed into performing.

5. Get an accountability coach
Now for habitual deadline 'tragics' - those who simply can't meet a deadline to save themselves, perhaps it's time to get really serious and engage a tough accountability coach. A friend of mine has an accountability coach who holds $1000 in a trust for failing to deliver on a deadline. If he misses any deadline, the $1000 is given as a donation to a political party that he really hates. So far he has lost about $3,000 but it has changed his entire working world and he feels it has been money well spent.

6. Make a BIG public commitment
Sometimes we need to issue a challenge and make a commitment, publicly. Perhaps declare 2016 to be the year where you become the worlds best deadline meter! Sounds corny, sure, but if you a sick and tired of a bad habit, that impacts your life, sometimes we have to make a big declaration to really make a change. Come up with your BIG commitment and tell everyone - so you have nowhere to hide!

7. Reward yourself
OK, this might sound a little like giving yourself a dog biscuit for doing something you should be grown up enough to do, but hey, we are all human and sometimes we need the biscuit. What are some nice, easy, meaningful rewards that you could give yourself every time you meet a deadline. Reprogram your thinking about deadlines - make them something to look forward to not something to dread.

8. Establish routine
I've been writing for Inc for about 2 years now. For 18 months, I had to have my article ready to go by 9.00am every Tuesday morning, rain, hail or shine. Did I ever miss a deadline. No? In the last few months, I've gone to twice a week. Have I missed a deadline? Never. Why not? To me it is the routine, I know that I have a commitment that is scheduled, regular and important. And I'm in Australia - so my times mean 12.00am and 12.30am deadlines. Sometimes, like tonight, I am writing at 11.30pm to get my article done - but I always get it done. Routine is powerful.

 

Published on: Mar 17, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.