Meet Deadlines Without Hitting Dead Ends

Pyrus recently announced that users of this task management and communication platform can now sort their task list by deadline. This might seem like a simple tool, but it can make a world of difference. Knowing how to relate to your deadlines can keep you from feeling like they’ll be the death of you.

As I wrote earlier in this blog post, most of us procrastinate. However, not all procrastination is equal. We actually tend to procrastinate less when it comes to task with urgent deadlines. That’s interesting, and important to consider when we set goals, a topic I discussed at length here. Let’s take a deeper dive into how you we can make deadlines work for us, not against us.

How Deadlines Trip Us Up

Most of us see deadlines as tripwires: once you’ve hit one, something’s bound to go wrong. Fortunately, time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders believes you can change that mindset. The problem with deadlines is how we relate to them, according to her HBR article. We tend to take one of two approaches to deadlines. Either, we let them induce an inordinate amount of stress as they approach, or we miss them entirely and then consider ourselves failures. (By the way, this earlier blog post about failure has some great strategies to flourish in the face of inevitable setbacks.) In any case, it’s our job to change that script.

Some of the problems stem from those who are setting deadlines. This Forbes article lists some common mistakes made in this process. First, be clear about when something must be done. Avoid using phrases like “when you can” or “as soon as possible.” As I described in this blog about communication in workflows, clear communication is key to success. Additionally, don’t set due dates far out in the future. That’s because, as I mentioned above, procrastination increases with tasks we perceive as non-urgent. Finally, don’t just assume that others will find intrinsic motivation to work on tasks in a timely manner. External motivation is an important part of making deadlines work in your favor.

What We Can Do

So how do we approach deadlines in a healthy way? Take some advice from the members of the Forbes Young Entrepreneur Council, collected here. These strategies all work in conjunction with general strategies for warding off stress. (Find more on that topic here.)

First, make a plan. Make sure you know what resources you’ll need and who’ll be involved in getting a task done. This can help you delegate as needed. Also, leave buffer room so that you can adjust to whatever goes wrong in the process. Now that you’re ready to start work, minimize distractions. (I already mentioned this as a best practice for boosting productivity in this post on time management.) Focus on the task before you in pieces. Break down daunting deadlines into smaller steps to make them manageable. Additionally, you may want to share your deadlines with others in your team or organization to increase your accountability. (Spoiler alert: Pyrus seamlessly incorporates this into any task workflow.) As you work, avoid multitasking, and make sure you’re getting good sleep! As I explained in this post about sleep, the benefits to your work are innumerable.

In case that hasn’t given you enough ideas, you can also check out suggestions from members of the Forbes Business Council here. They advise taking breaks for mindfulness and exercise as needed while you work on long tasks. Interestingly enough, that aligns perfectly with my earlier suggestions in this blog post. Additionally, know that you’re responsible for the process, not the outcome. Sometimes, a missed deadline is out of your control. There’s no use beating yourself up over it. If you want to prevent deadlines passing you by, though, using a workflow software can really help you stay on top of tasks. Hey, that’s what Pyrus is for!

Saying “No,” “Not Now,” and “Not Yet”

Sometimes, you’ll use all those best practices and still find yourself behind on a deadline. No need to panic! There are ways to get out of the seemingly endless piles of work. If you’ve already taken on a task and then something comes up, communicate about it right away. That advice comes from this article on deadlines by Saunders, the time management coach. Make sure your teammates and boss know as soon as you do that you won’t be able to make the deadline you committed to.

It doesn’t feel good to have to share that, though. The best way to avoid this sticky situation? Say “no” in advance. This article shares fantastic tips on how to employ this tricky but incredibly useful skill. The most important step you’ll need to take is to know your own capacity. If a volunteer opportunity, stretch project, or other time commitment comes up that you don’t have time for, decline it politely. Even when you theoretically have time to take something on, consider whether it’s aligned with your values and goals. If not, pass on the extra deadlines.

If you’re facing a responsibility rather than an opportunity, that advice might not work, but you can still set boundaries. Delegate tasks you can’t achieve alone to teammates, and be upfront about what’s reasonable to expect from you. If someone sends you a task with an unrealistic deadline, let them know right away. If the reason it’s not feasible is because you’re already working on something else for them, highlight the conflict. Asking “what would you like me to prioritize?” might seem easier than saying “no, I can’t.” Either way, you’ll avoid making commitments to unrealistic deadlines if you can be upfront about your limits.

Leadership on a Deadline

Of course, leaders play a huge role in setting deadlines that move work forward in organizations. This article about managing deadlines lists great ways to set your team or employees up for success. First, set deadlines based on importance, not urgency. If this means breaking up a project into multiple tasks to make the first deadline closer, do it. People will work on urgent tasks first, no matter how important they are. Second, communicate the positive consequences of meeting deadlines. For instance, share how valuable your team’s work will be for an upcoming presentation to key stakeholders. Finally, be open to adjusting deadlines based on employees’ needs. 

That advice segues well into the ideas shared in this article from Forbes. To set deadlines people can meet, involve team members in the process of choosing them. When deadlines are set by leadership already, seek feedback to understand what assignees’ capacity is. You’d rather know right away than at the last minute if something isn’t going to happen on time.

By the way, there’s one last piece of advice I have for workplace leaders, and that’s just coming from me.

Pyrus: Turning Deadlines Into Finish Lines

Help your organization, employees, or team meet deadlines by introducing Pyrus as your go-to productivity software. Using Pyrus lets you easily organize communication around each task separately, so you’ll always be on the same page with everyone involved. Plus, it’s easy to delegate and set deadlines in a workflow. With that recent update I mentioned before, assignees can also sort their tasks according to urgency. With this system, you’ll turn deadlines you’ve been dreading into finish lines you can celebrate. Check out the website to request a free demo today!