How to Use Deadlines to Your Advantage

Bill Abbate

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Have you ever noticed when you are on a deadline, you tend to get things done? Let's take a look at deadlines and how to use them to our advantage in everyday life.

Deadlines are a vital and necessary part of life and living. Without them, how would things get done? We learn about deadlines at a very young age, although we may not call them that.

Think back to when your parents told you if you want your allowance/treat/toy to finish cleaning your room or do something by a certain time; otherwise, you don't get it. You wouldn't have called it a deadline, yet that is what it was. You had deadlines throughout school, doing your homework, arriving at school on time, studying, being at practice, waking up, etc.

As you got older, the deadlines piled higher, even if you didn't recognize them as such. As an adult, you have a deadline for paying each bill, for being at work, for meetings, for socializing, for dinner, for everything!

"A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline." Harvey Mackay

How people handle deadlines

Are you familiar with the term "sense of urgency"? You create a sense of urgency whenever you pressure yourself or someone else to do something within a certain timeframe. It happens to most of us regularly and is a key component in setting deadlines. Let's look at the four primary types of people in the world regarding deadlines and their sense of urgency. There are many in-between types as well, but we will look at the main four for now.

"Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value." Jim Rohn

Let's say the deadline for a project you are working on is Friday, and it is now Monday.

Get it done – now!

The first type of person is one who will work to finish the project well ahead of schedule. Because they wish to avoid the strain of doing things at the last minute, they tend to be more proactive to mitigate as much stress as possible. They also realize that it could delay them if something else happens, so better get it done early. This tends to be the style I prefer.

This group has a strong sense of urgency for completing tasks.

Plan and execute

The second type of person will lay out a schedule and work each day to chip away at the project. Should something come up, they can still push toward the end and make the schedule. As with the first, this type of person likes some control over the stress created in such a deadline.

This group has a more controlled or moderate sense of urgency for most tasks.

11th hour!

The third type of person waits until the last minute, until the 11th hour to complete the project. My wife falls into this category, but don't tell her I said that! They are almost always successful in completing the project on time, by the skin of their teeth. This type of person works better under pressure and is as capable as anyone else, usually producing good results. The very thought of waiting until the last minute creates stress in me, yet some thrive on it!

While this group can have a very high sense of urgency, they can put it aside for a time and often prefer to complete tasks at the last minute.

We'll get it done – later…

The final type is the one who worries the least and is unlikely to finish on time. My favorite quote for this person is:

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing noise they make as they go by." Douglas Adams

They deal with stress in a completely different way than most of us.

This group of people has a low sense of urgency, and for the most part, remain unfazed by deadlines. Only strong external pressure works on them at times.

If you are familiar with your DISC or Myers-Briggs types, you know which you are and how your style has these tendencies!

"Everybody knows the power of deadlines - and we all hate them. But their effectiveness is undeniable." David Eagleman

Using deadlines in life

What can you do with this knowledge of how people deal with deadlines differently? A lot! Think about it for a minute. When you set a deadline, you immediately create a sense of urgency or pressure.

Pressure is a necessary force in life. Without it, few would accomplish much. The pressure/urgency may come from inside or outside of you. There are those of us who go through life feeling we must be doing something all the time. We have this internal sense of urgency that drives us to do something. Anything. When these self-motivated people put their efforts in the right place, they always produce results. Part of the reason they tend to achieve a great deal is they continuously set deadlines on their tasks.

If you do not have this internal sense of urgency, you can create it. Why not plan what you want to do, break it into smaller pieces, and set deadlines.

"Everything is an experiment until it has a deadline. That gives it a destination, context, and a reason." Brian Eno

For example, say you are a writer and decide you want to produce several short articles each week. I do this even though I am retired to help me be productive.

By setting a goal of writing at least six articles per week, I have actually set a deadline for the week of six articles. I break this down further to create a deadline to write one article each day, Monday through Saturday. I then set a deadline to write a draft each morning before 10:00. My final daily deadline is a bit looser to finish the drat, edit, and publish the article before the end of the day. Setting my own deadlines makes this the 325th article I have published in about as many days (I often work in one extra article each week!)

This is but one small example of how to make deadlines work for you.

Three steps to success

Have you experienced periods in life when your productivity soared? This is often referred to as a state of flow or being in the zone. It occurs when you suddenly seem to be able to get things done in a way that is so smooth it is almost effortless. We all wish we could tap into this more often, and when you set deadlines, you may be able to.

How many times have you been within days of leaving on vacation and had a surge of productivity? Why do you think this happens? A few things are apparent. It becomes a simple three-step process and includes:

1. Knowing the exact outcome required so you can leave and thoroughly enjoy your free time for the next week or two or more.

2. A firm date and time you must be finished. In other words, a "drop-dead" date and time.

3. The ability to focus on the tasks at hand and getting them done!

The pressure created by setting a deadline on the front end is usually far less than the pressure of being late. This pressure or sense of urgency works in your favor to push you to meet or beat the deadline. Once the deadline is met, you get the satisfaction of its achievement.

Imagine all you can get done in the average day or week when you use the benefits of setting deadlines!

"Give yourself a deadline to stop planning and to start taking action." Andy Gilbert

If you genuinely want to be highly productive, why not add a touch more to the schedule than you can handle? In other words, overload yourself slightly. You will find you usually accomplish more by doing this, expanding your capacity and ability to do even more!

"Deadlines aren't bad. They help you organize your time. They help you set priorities. They make you get going when you might not feel like it." Harvey Mackay

Final words

Every high-achieving person or organization uses deadlines. By using them to create a sense of urgency, you will become a high-performer; without them, you will suffer.

Thoughtfully and purposely include deadlines in your life and on your calendar. You will be amazed at how much more capacity you can create in your life, not to mention how much more you can accomplish!

"The ultimate inspiration is the deadline." Nolan Bushnell

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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