My Top Tips for Working to Deadlines
Why it is important to work to deadlines? I hear you ask. Working to deadlines is important in every single job, no matter which sector you work in. In fact, it matters in most things in life!
We are all creatures of habit, so if you are one of those people who is always running for that bus or train, you may have issues with working to deadlines and organisation. So, this blog is for you, and I hope it helps!
In today’s tech savvy world, working to a deadline is more important than ever. Imagine if you worked in graphic design and one of your clients was launching a new brand, and you didn’t manage to meet the deadline. Your client then can’t launch on time, and it’s YOUR FAULT. Wow, that gives me a chronic bout of anxiety just thinking about it. Or more appropriately here, you have a compliance report deadline that you have to submit to the FCA on a certain date. What if that doesn’t happen? What if you don’t meet that deadline? Well, you could be penalised financially or, even worse, the FCA could seek to cancel that firm’s permission to operate. If that was on your head – just because you missed a deadline – it doesn’t bear thinking about.
As you all probably know by now, I used to be a senior recruiter in Governance before moving into learning and development. From my perspective, it is impossible to be a good recruiter if you aren’t organised. Actually, it’s also impossible to be a good L&D professional if you aren’t organised.
In fact, I’m going to make the bold statement that it is impossible to be the best you can be at anything in life unless you are organised. There, I said it (my opinion) and I stand by it.
So, without any further ado, I have brainstormed my top 10 tips to help you work successfully to deadlines, and to be organised.
1. You need to care about them. If in the back of your mind you know you aren’t going to hit a deadline, the likelihood is, you won’t. It’s like promising yourself that you will go to the gym in the morning but in the back of your mind you know you aren’t going to get up when your alarm goes off. Low and behold, you don’t make it to the gym. In order to hit deadlines, you must be serious about them.
2. A LIST! My favourite. Write. Everything. Down. Brain dump. Everything about the piece of work you are doing now and will have to do, just write down in rough, skeletal form. Then prioritise (funnily enough, another of my tips). Did you know that if you write something down you are 42% more likely to do it?
3. Communication is key. If more than one person is involved in completing the task make sure everyone involved in the project is clear about the deadlines. Tell them face to face but also follow up with a confirmation email. If you are one of the people waiting for a deadline so you can do your bit for the project and you don’t get one – chase! Ask for one so you can prioritise your workload.
4. Break down your workload into bitesize chunks and have a start and finish date for each step. In effect, create your own mini-deadlines. This takes me back to the standard advice I had when revising for exams back at school! But it works. Note to self – do not try to tackle an entire project head-on. It’s too daunting. You will find yourself so fixated on the end goal that you will forget the bits you have to do to reach that end goal. Tackle each chunk, one step at a time. Focus on the task at hand. I recommend, from my own experience, that you break the tasks down into steps that take no longer than 1 hour or 1.5 hours to complete.
5. Organisation, organisation, organisation. How many deadlines are you currently working towards for different projects? Ah, you’re not sure. I thought so (unless you are already king or queen of organisation, in which case I take my hat off to you). How many times have you been so focused on one deadline that others slipped your mind until you suddenly remember and have only 24 hours to complete the task?! Well, we live in a world where scheduling has never been easier. Keep track of deadlines on your email calendar. Keep track on your smartphone. You can even get apps now for scheduling. Even if you aren’t happy using technology (and I have met some people who prefer old fashioned methods) you can still keep track - using a desk or wall calendar. No excuses!
6. Don’t run before you can walk. They always say the hardest part of a project is actually starting it. Focus on the first step. You should have a clear idea of this now that you have a) brain dumped everything on to a piece of paper and b) broken the project down in to smaller steps. Stop procrastinating by worrying about how much there is to do and just start. Pen to paper. Finger to keyboard. As you work through your step list, tick them off literally or metaphorically and enjoy the satisfaction of steadily climbing that ladder towards the end goal. Once you’re in the flow you will be finished in no time. Ta dah!
7. Adequate timings. Remember to block out the timings in your schedule (see point 5). If you aren’t sure, take an educated guess and then add another smidgen of time - just to be safe as you don’t want to over run into your next task. You can then adjust accordingly, once completed. You might even beat your deadline – what a thrill!
8. Don’t overpromise and then underdeliver. Overpromising is setting yourself up to fail. When I used to work as a senior recruiter, I used to treat every search as a project. If I said I was going to have CVs for the client by Wednesday of the next week, I would do everything in my power to make sure I had them on time. Imagine how rubbish I would have looked if I had set an unrealistic deadline and failed to hit it!
9. Stay up late – if you have to do this you probably procrastinated (don’t worry, we are all guilty of this). Procrastination is one of the most challenging habits to overcome, especially when a deadline is two weeks away and you feel you have no urgency because you think you have loads of time to complete it; then, before you know, it you have two days and you’re in panic mode. The remedy to procrastination however, is pretty simple. See points 4, 5 and 6. If you set a deadline or have a deadline imposed on you, you should be doing everything in your power to hit it. If you must stay late, so be it. It’s probably your own fault and (hopefully) you won’t make the same mistake again!
10. Which brings me on to my final point. Learn from your mistakes. There will be times when you physically are not able to meet a deadline. Sometimes, you will have overstretched yourself, or had an emergency thrust onto to you that throws your deadlines for other work completely. When this happens, take a few moments to debrief with yourself, work out what went wrong, what you can control better next time and ensure you build on the structures I have outlined above so you can be more successful next time. Then, you won’t feel demoralised at failure or take the view it doesn’t matter (which takes me back to point 1).
So that’s it. My top 10 tips on working to deadlines. Seems simple now it’s right in front of you, doesn’t it? And, in my experience, they do work.
In a nutshell, the more prepared you are to focus hard to meet deadlines, the better you will become at meeting those deadlines successfully. If you can work out your own strategy or method that can help you personally control deadline pressure, you can use that strategy in the future. Hopefully, this blog will help you find that strategy!
(Phew…deadline met. Let’s check my schedule now…..Aah yes, that training meeting in half an hour…I’m on it. Now!)