You know the feeling—the knot in your stomach caused by the fear of not getting a report, presentation or project done on time. The countdown goes down to the very last minute when you can say, "It's done!"
Sometimes no matter how hard and fast you work, you miss your deadline, adding to your physical and emotional stress. This isn't a healthful way to work, and it also can be damaging to your career.
"Missing deadlines is a sign of a non-committed employee in the minds of many managers and is unacceptable workplace behavior," says Chris S. Frings, Ph.D., a professional speaker and author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Effective Time Management. "Procrastination, unrealistic deadlines and/or lack of appropriate prioritization are why most deadlines are missed. People also frequently start too late to work on a project with a deadline. Waiting until the last minute to start something causes stress and often results in less than your best work."
Dr. Frings offers the following suggestions on how to stay on track.
Make it interesting
Nobody likes boring work, so people tend to put it off until the last minute. The solution is to make up a game about tedious projects to add excitement to it. For example, give yourself points for making progress on a project, then give yourself a reward for every 10 points.
Break it down
Sometimes a job can be so overwhelming that it's difficult to even get started. If you're not clear about what to do or how to do it, ask for more specific directions. Then take that first step to get the ball rolling on the project.
Don't be afraid to tell your boss a project deadline is unrealistic. You may worry he or she will think you're slow and incompetent, but the opposite is true. It demonstrates your ability to analyze all the aspects of an assignment and evaluate how long each will take. It also shows your concern for getting things done on time.
"It's better to say something up front so you can either get a more realistic deadline or get extra help so you can meet the deadline," says Dr. Frings.
You may put off doing a project with a deadline in order to do your daily urgent tasks. The problem is, your project may never get started.
"If you have multiple tasks, ask your supervisor to prioritize them so you know which are more important," Dr. Frings says. "Discuss the deadlines and how you can find time to meet them with him or her, too."
Allow for the unforeseen
Projects usually take longer than you expect. Interruptions, delays, crises, and phone calls can eat up your time.
"Always plan extra time to meet your deadline," says Dr. Frings. "That way, you may even be able to turn in your work ahead of schedule, which will lower your stress and impress your boss."
If you have a deadline, you can plan to meet it by working backward from your due date. List everything that needs to be done and put a mini deadline on it.
Finally, when faced with deadlines or other work, be sure to take care of yourself by eating right, exercising regularly and taking time to decompress.