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5 Easy Steps to Meeting Deadlines
Avoid Time-Wasting Habits
It’s tough to work under the gun, but it’s something we all need to do from time to time, either because we put a project off until the last minute, or because we had a heavy dose of work dumped on our heads.
Regardless of the cause, however, developing the skill to meet tight deadlines can do big things for your career – managers and executives love employees who can finish work on time, and team members who can organize and execute quickly usually rise to the top.
With that in mind, here are five tips to doing great work on a tight deadline:
- Clear the decks. The first thing to do, when you need to produce great work in a hurry, is to allow yourself to concentrate on it. That means making some space, both mentally and physically. Try to clean up your work area so that nothing else is going to distract you. And at the same time, clear your head of other thoughts and problems as much as you can. If something else is bugging you, make a note to come back to it later; you want to be able to keep your eyes on the road.
- Know exactly what you’re working on. This is actually good advice in just about any working situation, but is especially critical when you are under the gun. Find out decisively what is expected, and exactly what your deadline is, before you begin. Otherwise, you could waste countless hours working in the wrong direction.
- Get organized. There is a tendency, when we are under stress, to jump right in and "just do it." Big mistake. To get the most out of your time, spend a little bit of it – even if it is just a few minutes – organizing all the relevant data and components. A little bit of time figuring out where to start can save you quite a bit later on.
- You are usually better early than late. While most of us have had the experience of pulling an "all-nighter" at one point or another, the practice is usually counterproductive. You are almost always better off getting some sleep and rising early to finish a project than you are staying up deep into the night and trying to stay fresh. Additionally, many of your best ideas and insights are likely to come when you aren’t thinking directly about the task in front of you, anyway. So, feel free to get some sleep or take a break to rest your mind –it is hard to walk away when you are in a hurry, but it might just speed you up in the long run.
- Know when to move on. One of the biggest challenges of working quickly is fighting the impulse to be a perfectionist. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do your best work, but if it keeps you from getting other things done – and possibly making the next item on your list even more urgent – then you are not helping yourself. Get into the habit of doing a good job, finishing a project, and then moving on... it is not always easy, but it is usually best.
How do you know when being perfect is too perfect? Since learning to finish projects and then letting go can help you achieve so much more than obsessing over details, here are a few tips for learning when to wrap it up and move on:
- Diagnose yourself. If you are still reading to this point, there is a good chance you have recognized some perfectionist tendencies in yourself in the past. Ask yourself: do other people routinely finish their work before you? Do you find yourself agonizing over details that might not matter that much? If so, you might have some work to do.
- Set firm deadlines. One easy way to beat perfectionism is to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to finish a project, and then stick to it. Once the time is up, finish things the best you can, and then submit your work and move on. Over time, this practice will help you to recognize when you really need to make revisions, and when you are simply focusing too tightly on things that aren’t important.
- Ask for feedback, and then let go. As part of this process, ask your supervisors or peers to see whether they notice a big difference in the quality of your work. If they still think you are doing a great job, then learn to let go of tiny imperfections and get things finished more quickly.
Don’t give up perfectionism altogether. Of course, there are going to be some parts of your life where a perfectionist streak is a good thing. For example, if you are a cardiologist, most of your patients would probably approve of you trying to get things just right. But, it is important that you figure out which parts of your personal and professional life require 100% accuracy, and which areas simply need to be finished on time. Learning to tell the difference is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your productivity.
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