Don't Panic! How to Meet a Deadline

I'm going to make this quick, because this article is due in 15 minutes. Just kidding — I've got some time. I decided not to leave this work to the last minute. It just leads to a lot of unnecessary sweating, compulsive hair pulling and, in the most serious cases, tears. Plus, it would be kinda hypocritical considering the advice I'm about to give. (See also: 10 Ways to Save Time by Spending Time)

Have a tight deadline to meet? Here are some tips on getting the job done.

1. Start Right Now

Seriously. Get to work. I get your desire to procrastinate. I'm all about procrastinating, too. Fortunately, I've done enough of it to know that it just isn't worth it. All that time you aren't working toward meeting your deadline is really just wasted life. You know, the kind where you're trying to be carefree and fun-loving, but really you're just all twisted up inside thinking about how much work you have to do. So ditch your friends, turn off the TV, and dig in. The worst that can happen is that you finish early.

2. Make a Plan

When I'm stressed about a project, my mind tends to spin in ever-tightening circles until my inner dialog sounds like a song by The Chipettes. It's about that pointless and repetitive, too. So, when I have something major to tackle and little time to do it, the first thing I do is sit down and make a list of each major component I need to complete. Then I systematically work my way down the list until I'm done. Call it a battle plan. Actually, call it whatever you want. Just do it. It works.

3. Budget Your Time

Teachers always say things like "budget your time effectively." The problem is that as a kid, I had absolutely no idea what that meant, except that based on the way the teacher was looking at me (down her nose), I was totally failing at it.

It actually took me a long time to figure it out, but what time management really means is looking at your battle plan, looking at how much time you have to accomplish your task, and settling on a rough time estimate for completing each part of your plan. When you have a really tight deadline, that can mean letting go of some perfectionism and accepting that you'll have to move on if you want to get the job done. It's just like budgeting your money. The key is to accept right up front that you may not be able to have it all.

4. Find a Place Where You Can Focus

When you need to work quickly and effectively, the last thing you need are distractions. So, when a deadline's looming, find that magic workspace that'll give you razor-sharp focus. That means different things to different people. In college I often ditched my friends at the library to hit up a noisy coffee shop. Complete silence creeps me out. (Plus, any place that bans snacks is not cool with me.)

Find a work haven that works for you — or do your best to make one in the workspace you have.

5. Don't Panic

If there's one thing that can derail a rush for a tight deadline, it's letting the idea that you'll never be able to finish this in a million years run you over. If you have a really tight deadline, that one's going to be hanging over your head the whole time. Just keep calm and carry on. It's the only way to get there.

6. Be Willing to Let Go

I tend to overestimate what I'm capable of. Calling it ambition makes it sound like a good thing, but what it really means in practical terms is that my to-do list becomes like one of those unfurling scrolls that unrolls for several feet (the sound of trumpets is palpable). When I have a tight deadline, I have to throw my to-do list away and forget about it. If you're a perfectionist, meeting a deadline might mean letting go a little bit in other ways, too. It's always possible to do things better, but when time is tight you may have to settle for the best you can do right now.

7. Ask for Help

I'm not great at asking other people for help, but you'd be amazed at how helpful and sympathetic people will be if you just tell them how close to a total meltdown you actually are. If you're really struggling, ask for what you need, be it help with the dishes, a listening ear, or just some space. A tough job is a lot easier when it's a team effort.

8. Celebrate

If you've been under pressure for few days (or weeks...or years), don't forget to celebrate when the job's done. It's easy to be so overcome with relief when a project's over that you forget to be happy about it. Doing something fun helps put a more positive spin on all that stress. Plus, knowing that you'll celebrate your next big deadline will give you something to look forward when things get tough.

Hitting a tough deadline is never easy, but I've done it enough times to know that there are a few things you can do to make it much less stressful, and doing those things will add years to your life.

How do you meet tight deadlines? Hurry up and share your time-cheating tricks in comments!

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Guest's picture

To me, it's all about #3. You need to be able to prioritize to focus on the most important parts of the task first and put off the less important aspects until the end. This way, if you do run out of time you still have the most important parts complete.

This works for just about any type of project!

Tara Struyk's picture

I agree. Unfortunately, I think it's also the skill that takes the longest to learn.