Meeting deadlines at work doesn’t have to be painful. There are some easy ways to improve your time management skills and your ability to meet deadlines
From getting to work on time to renewing your driver’s licence, we deal with deadlines every day. But for some of us, our ability to meet deadlines needs some work – so where to begin? “Flexibility and the ability to swap your order of priorities – making those judgment and time-management calls – is important,” says registered organisational psychologist Dr Amanda Ferguson. “Managing deadlines is about how we manage our relationships with people, organisations and authorities.” Dr Timothy Bednall, senior lecturer in management at Swinburne University of Technology and a fellow of the APS College of Organisational Psychologists, advises spending a chunk of time on one project before moving on to the next. “Flipping between multiple projects and tasks can be quite inefficient as your brain is constantly shifting gears.” So if you need a little help to maximise your efficiency, these clever hacks are just what you need.
Automate, Automate, Automate
Have systems in place so you’re not starting from scratch with every project. “Workflow automation can help make complicated business processes easier to manage and streamline a lot of the repetitive, time-consuming tasks,” says Anthony Hill, head of technology at Geeks2U. “Systems like Zapier connect your existing applications to help automate repetitive tasks.” For example, you can automate processes such as scheduling content across different social media channels and generating receipts for clients. He says you should regularly review the data these software systems collect and use it to improve your processes. Dr Ferguson says this principle doesn’t just apply to technological and business processes. “Create templates to structure reports and essays using examples online. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time.”
Work Backwards or Take Baby Steps
Work backwards from the deadline rather than forwards. “’Plot the times and tasks, working back from your deadline, and you’ll see what you need to do to accommodate it,” says Dr Ferguson. If you’re prone to procrastination, Dr Bednall suggests trying a ‘next-action list’ rather than a to-do list. We’ve all heard the advice to break a task into chunks, but a next-action list includes every single tiny step to better improve your time management skills. “If you really don’t feel like doing something, ask, ‘What’s the next step?’ It’s a good way to take action when you feel overwhelmed,” he says.
Set an Early Deadline
Dr Bednall says setting yourself a ‘fake’ early deadline for a task creates a buffer. “You can say, ‘The real deadline is Friday but I’ll get it done by Wednesday to give myself extra time in case I need it.’"
“For some people, the more time you give them, the less likely it is that they’ll meet the deadline,” says Dr Ferguson. “Being under the pump often focuses your concentration and gives you a bit of adrenaline. So, give yourself an artificial deadline.” She suggests inserting something into your timeline so you can’t go over your self-imposed deadline. So, for example, if you’ve given yourself a deadline of tomorrow afternoon, organise a dinner out for tomorrow night.
Find the Fun
“People always perform better when they’re having fun or there is a reward,” says Dr Ferguson. Try to find something interesting in your report or team up with a colleague or study buddy. You can also try rewarding yourself after completing a block of work with something like a set amount of time on social media.
Hot Tip: Find social media too distracting? There are a number of apps you can use to block social media sites for specified amounts of time, but Anthony says to ensure you don’t also block notifications or messages you want to receive.
Pair Your Coffee With a Power Nap
Now, for the tip you really want to hear! Studies show a short daytime nap can increase productivity (but be warned: naps should be no longer than 20 minutes or they interfere with your sleep cycle). Dr Bednall suggests trying a ‘coffee nap’: drinking a cup of coffee just before you shut your eyes means you sleep while the caffeine works its way through your system. It might sound counterintuitive but the concept is based on solid science. Bednall explains: “When you wake up, you’ll be energised not just from the micro nap, but from the caffeine starting to take effect.”
Dr Ferguson advocates a slightly different type of ‘power nap’: a 20-minute meditation. She says people who regularly meditate for 20 minutes a day perform better at work. “If you need a refresh, top up with a power nap five minutes before you tackle a block of work.”