Getting Stuff Done: 4 Ways To Better Meet Work Deadlines

Have problem getting work done on time? These tips will help you out.

If your boss told you he needed a report from you and it was due tomorrow at noon, if you’re like many people, you’ll have it finished by 11:30. If your boss told you he needed the exact same report by 5:00 pm, you’d have it finished by 4:30. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as Parkinson’s Law, which states, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Why is it that we the more time we have to finish work, the more time it takes to complete the work?

Well, for one, the more time we have to work on a project, the more time we have for breaks. A later deadline can also decrease the value of the work. The boss asked for it on Thursday, so it’s not “Tuesday important.” Another reason for work filling time is the fear or the unknown, in terms of what it will take to finish a task. In many cases, we simply put off starting a project until we have to work on it because we don’t want to think about it until we absolutely have to.

Understanding how deadlines often seems to sneak up on you can help you take steps to better manage your time when it comes to completing projects and reports, finish your work earlier, and submit higher-quality deliverables.

Planning is as Important as Execution

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, at least when it comes to time management. Creating a plan at the start of any assignment often helps you discover that the project is going to be much easier than you thought. This will help you actually want to start work on the project sooner, giving you more quality time to devote to it.

A good project or report starts with a detailed plan, much like the contents page of a written document. Write a list of the who, what, where, when, why and how factors you’re going to need to address as soon as you get an assignment. You don’t have to start working on the nuts and bolts of a project or report when you get it, but if you immediately map out your plan of attack, you make the task less intimidating.

How do you Eat an Elephant?

One bite at a time. A big project looks a whole lot easier if it turns out to be several small tasks. For example, if you have a paper due, create a to-do list for your project using a reverse-chronological calendar. This can include creating your outline as one task, gathering your resources as the next, writing the executive summary, writing the body of the report, creating the appendix, proofreading it, then preparing the final draft. Create your calendar starting with the date you must turn the project in, working backwards from there, such as printing the document, having it proofread and so on.

Block the appropriate amount of time for each one of these tasks on your calendar. For example, for a report, schedule creating your outline and deciding on your list of resources for Monday morning from 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. Schedule gathering your resources and writing your executive summary as your first task when you get back from lunch. Block your last hour of the day for writing one of your body sections. Schedule Tuesday morning from 10 a.m. to noon for writing the rest of the body of your report. Creating a schedule like this helps you avoid trying to write the entire report at once, figuring out what you need to do as you go.

Better Scheduling Leads to Better Work

When you create a reverse-chron schedule and divide your work blocks into tasks that relate to each other, you might find that you not only have no problem getting your work finished on time, but that you actually do better work because you’re more focused on one specific aspect of a project, not mentally wandering through the other aspects of the project you haven’t planned yet.

In addition to scheduling specific projects you need to complete, schedule productivity killers such as responding to email, making phone calls and other tasks that, if not scheduled, can eat up valuable time. Include a Plan B to be able to respond to partners, co-workers, clients or others who don’t respond to your emails or calls or who don’t submit deliverables on time.

Update your Schedules

As you complete each task, update your reverse-chron calendar if you feel you can move tasks forward. If you find that you are able to complete two tasks during a session you had scheduled for one, re-do your calendar to reflect this and take advantage of this bonus time. Don’t “reward” yourself by thinking you can spend less time on the next scheduled item on your list or start it later.

Do you have any tips for beating the deadline crunch? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Other Resources

Beat Parkinson’s Law and Supercharge Your Productivity

Use Parkinson’s Law to your Advantage

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