If You Don't Have A Deadline, You Need To Create One

J.R. Heimbigner

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I used to think having a deadline was enough. Believing the work would get done on a task or project as long as I had a deadline. However, with my current job and with my writing, there are plenty of deadlines. And yet, I was struggling to complete those deadlines regularly. Let alone do so stress-free.

In my search for understanding ways to become more productive, I realized I could not only depend on deadlines. I need to create timelines to complete my tasks and projects on time. And I needed to do so with less stress.

Tasks Managed Only by Deadlines — 6 Months Ago

Going to my mailbox on any given day I could find nothing, or I could find a giant packet of information. If it is a giant-packet-day, I know instinctively at this point that I have at least ten days to respond to the contents of the packet. Otherwise, I will be in trouble at work and possibly leave my company open to some huge liability.

The deadline is set.

What I used to do, would be set my deadline on a whiteboard in my cubicle. Then I would move out our software dates to make sure I completed my response by at least the deadline. I thought this would work well and the work would get done.

What I discovered about myself was how I reverted to college assignment mode and would always end up preparing my response the night before at home, or the day of coming down to the wire.

It was stressful for me and my supervisor.

And once, I missed one. Which led me to a bunch of trouble, mostly for myself. But it was not good. And so, in my quest to discover ways to be more productive, I found a new reality. I needed to create timelines to reach my deadlines.

Creating and Implementing Timelines

My research revealed most people create timelines in their minds when they know a task is due. However, a large majority of people were not setting smaller tasks to map out the timeline they needed to complete the main deadline.

We like to create task lists. But we don’t provide ourselves with due dates for tasks.

And so, I realized I needed to figure out how to best do this for my workload. Without creating a bunch of extra work. One morning before I started the day, I wrote down the tasks from arrival time to response time. They were as follows:

  • Organize Packet
  • Send Out Records for Analysis
  • Review Records Returned
  • Evaluate Packet
  • Confirm Approval if Needed
  • Respond

Six actions must be done every time. The next thing I had to do was decided when to do these. If I always have to complete a response in ten days, then I could always have these actions set and completed on certain days. Fires pending (things that come up to derail the best-laid plans).

The great thing about these tasks is some could be done the on same days. My process became this:

  1. Day Zero (Arrival): Organize Packet and Send Records Out for Analysis
  2. Day Five, Six, or Seven: Review Returned Records, Evaluate, Confirm Approval
  3. Day Six, Seven, Eight: Review Disapproved Evals or Respond
  4. Day Seven, Eight, Nine: Confirm Approval on Rework and Respond.

In this setting, I should always respond before the ten-day deadline. And it takes into consideration the potential for any rework, which I never did before. While my timelines are not exact always, they give a sliding scale for potential process issues or ‘fires’ which come up along the way.

And it ensures I have an action plan to take me to my deadline.

Timelines Meeting Deadlines — Today

Six months later, I have settled into this system. I don’t use my whiteboard anymore. In fact, I use my pre-determined timeline for every packet response which comes in today. And in most situations, I am responding before ten days.

Oddly enough, responding sooner has helped me get through so much more work. I am out in front most of the time, and when there is a one-off situation, I have already built in the time to deal with it.

Stress is down. Which helps me focus on other aspects of my job. My efficiency and productivity are the best it has been in my current role.

It’s amazing. And this is the way we experience productivity and great margin.

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