Jan 4, 2007
Honoring Your Schedule (How to Meet Deadlines Faster)
On a coaching call today I got the question, “How do I make sure I meet deadlines faster and more consistently when I seem to get bogged down in the individual tasks of my projects?” The answer is a simple one, but it requires building some new disciplines. Fortunately, you’re not afraid to do what it takes to get to your goals faster, so here’s a summary of my answer:
A lot of our stress and procrastination comes from the fact we often break agreements with ourselves. We say that we’re going to do all of these things, but then things get “in the way,” or we lose motivation, or we flat out don’t give it all we’ve got. And that does nothing to help your productivity.
To pull yourself out of that slump, you’ve got to start respecting and valuing your time more so you can honor more of those commitments to yourself.
Respect = Follow Through
Think about this: If you make a commitment to someone – say you tell them you’ll meet with them Tuesday at 5 – you tend to follow through. You do this because you want to show the you respect them (It would be rude not to show for your appointment). But every commitment you make to yourself is basically an appointment with yourself – but we don’t tend to think twice about breaking those.
Well, it’s time to start thinking twice. if you’re facing discipline issues, when you build your schedule you need to treat each task like appointments with different people. In other words:
- When you show up to an appointment, give your full attention to the person (task), and when the time comes, you say goodbye to the first person (task) and move on to the next one.
- If you haven’t finished up with the first person (task), you immediately set another appointment to continue later.
Again, this makes sense when dealing with people (you wouldn’t just keep hanging out with the first person and ignore meeting with the second one). But the shift here is thinking this way about your tasks.
Which Would Motivate You More?
People may balk at this at first, because it seems to go against the idea of “flow” – getting into a groove of high productivity and not stopping to do anything else ’till you’re done. But that’s the advanced stage of productivity, that’s not what we’re talking about here.
This is how to begin rescuing yourself when you go from day to day not getting into flow much at all.
Imagine this situation: You have four tasks to complete today, each of which you estimate will take you two hours. Seems easy enough. You start in on task #1 and realize after an hour that the task is going to take a lot longer than you thought – either because you underestimated the task, or you’re honestly not giving it your complete focus (be honest if this is the case).
Now, what if you tell yourself, “I’ll stick with task one till I get it done …” and after a full workday you’re still on it. Now you’ve totally skipped out on making progress on tasks two through four and you likely look at your day as a failure, because you’re behind. How motivated do you think you’d be to work hard on the other tasks?
But what if …
But what if you handled it differently – if you said to yourself up front, “Listen, here’s the deal. You have two hours to work on each of these tasks. Whatever you don’t get done you have to stay late and do, so you’d better give 200% while you’re working in each time block.” Don’t you think you’d be more motivated? You know you would.
You’ve already experienced this before. Think back to the time when you left your term paper to the last day and “suddenly” found the ability to focus and execute like mad to get the job done. And you stayed late ’till it was all finished.
Or think of a time your boss came in an said, “I need this by the end of the day,” and throws you an eight hour task when you’ve only got four. But you still managed to get it done because you got insanely focused on meeting that commitment.
When you do that to yourself – when you say, “Hey, if you don’t get this done now, you’re staying late,” you open yourself up to a higher level of focus. You’re guaranteed to get more done than if you just gave it “your best shot.”
The Double Bonus
And here’s the great part. Even if you underestimated all your tasks, and the end of the day you have four tasks that are only halfway finished (which will happen a lot), you’ve accomplished two things.
First, you’ve honored your commitment, so you feel good about yourself. That in itself goes a long way to building your motivation and creating the “procrastination antibodies” that will help you in the future.
Second, you’ve made across the board progress, so your motivation levels get boosted again. In the first scenario, you were behind in three tasks and (maybe) done with one. In the second scenario, you’re approaching the finish line on everything – so you’re much more likely to schedule the time to finish the and really follow through on it.
So Give It A Shot
Now it’s time to put he rubber to the road. Give this a shot for the next few days and witness what it does to your productivity. It may feel uncomfortable switching gears and “staying late” if you have to, but that’s a good thing.
Being uncomfortable means you’re moving away from your comfortable habit and into something greater.
So give it a shot today. You’ll thank yourself for it.