Deadlines are an inherent part of professional life. Most people will have anywhere between one and half a dozen active deadlines in their work at any given time. Deadlines can be a very useful tool for managing work and coordinating projects with other people, but when used poorly can be a huge source of stress.
Using deadlines well will allow you to work more efficiently with less stress. So what does good deadline management look like?
==> Learn to Say No
The most important skill you could develop with deadline management is the skill of saying “no.” Or better yet, master the art of saying no while giving an alternative.
For example, let’s say your boss asks you: “Can you get XYZ done by Friday?” A good answer might be, “No, because I have ABC on my plate. I can have it done Monday, or we can push ABC back and I can have XYZ done by Friday.”
A bad answer would be to take on the task anyway, even though you’d be overloaded.
Learn to say no to tasks that you can’t handle.
==> Schedule Your Work and Deadlines
What goes hand in hand with saying “no” is knowing your schedule. If you don’t know exactly how much work you have to do each day, there’s no way for you to know whether or not you can take on more work. In order to know whether to say yes or no to a task, you need to be able to accurately gauge your current workload.
Take all your current tasks and deadlines and predict how much work you’ll need to put into them. Then schedule this work out on a day to day basis. You now know how packed or open your schedule is.
Next time someone wants to give you a new deadline, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.
==> Keep Tabs on Resources and Personnel
Often times your ability to fulfill on a deadline will depend on outside resources and other people.
If your deadline is to have a magazine cover design finished, you might need headlines from other people, you might need photo touch-ups from other people, and you might need printer resources to get proofs done.
Make sure you know the availability of the people your projects depend on. Make sure you know the availability of other resources that you’ll need to complete your project (equipment, money, software, etc.). Again, this will help you make informed decisions about whether or not to take on new projects and what deadlines you can agree to.
These deadline management techniques will help you avoid taking on more than you can handle. They’ll also help prevent late projects due to unrealistic deadlines. All around they’ll help you and your team get more done, communicate better and reduce workplace stress.