How to Meet Deadlines

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You were the type who always pulled all-nighters to cram for exams.
Now you're still doing the same thing as deadlines loom, whether it's
for filing taxes, mailing holiday cards or completing work assignments.
Use these tips to break down large projects into bite-size chunks and
break the cycle. Soon you'll be making those deadlines--with time to
spare.

  • Read 16 Set Goals and 2 Set Priorities.

  • Identify when your project must be completed, then calculate how much time you have to do it. Depending on the project, this could be days, weeks or months.

  • Take into consideration what may sidetrack you. The more timecritical the task, the more important it is that you're realistic about what else is on your plate.

  • Break large projects into smaller subtasks. For example, you can divide wedding planning into getting a dress, finding a reception location, hiring a caterer and so on (see 324 Create the Ultimate Wedding Checklist). To come up with an accurate schedule for the project, estimate how long you'll need to complete each subtask, making sure to build in time for unforeseen circumstances or delays.

  • Define each subtask, and set start and end dates for each. Make sure you continually evaluate how realistic your time frame is. If you're running out of time, and there's nothing you can do about it--such as the meeting starts in 48 hours--then get creative and start trimming tasks.

  • Create a check list and schedule for each subtask (see 3 Write an Effective To-Do List). Use whatever system works for you to stay on track: a daily check-in with your schedule, a tickler file on the dining-room table or an alarm on your personal digital assistant (PDA).

  • Enlist help from reliable colleagues or friends--you'll not only save time but also empower others on your team when they contribute to the overall project. Delegate all tasks except those that only you can get done. Schedule regular meetings with your team to make sure subtasks remain on schedule and within budget.

  • Cut corners where you can without affecting the overall quality. Re-evaluate your deadline and keep consolidating tasks and cutting extras until you can get the job done.

  • Take care to assess the situation with a calm head as you go along. Big projects can quickly snowball.

  • Identify certain tasks that may be holding up the works or are simply not going to get done in time. If possible, hire someone to help you.

  • Gather your team after the deadline has been met. Discuss the project and determine if goals were met, how the process could have been improved and how team members performed. Ask for honest feedback from everyone with the understanding that your ultimate desire is improved performance on the next deadline.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use scheduling software such as Microsoft Project to help set up your tasks and automatically adjust critical dates when delays crop up. Make use of the Sheets feature to organize and keep a record of all relevant information.

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