Every creative professional knows how to dread deadlines. However, we could often use some help knowing how to meet deadlines.
This means having enough discipline not to push back deadlines. It’s something that’s easy to do when we’re under crunch time. However, it isn’t a solution. Push your deadlines back enough times, and soon enough, you won’t have a content marketing strategy left to execute.
Content must be created, and it must be delivered on time. Your audience craves it. Your boss demands it. Your job literally depends on it.
And with the right processes and work habits in place, you’ll hit every deadline, every time.
Best of all, this isn’t as hard to pull off as you might think.
Let us show you how to conquer your fear of deadlines and be more productive than ever.
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1. Start By Asking When, Not What
"What do you want done?" is usually the first question that gets asked when planning a project. After some discussion, you usually find out when the project needs to be finished.
However, sometimes a better opening question is "When do we want this done?" Start by setting your deadline first. Then, work backward to figure out how much you can realistically accomplish between today and your deadline.
People don’t like deadlines because they make them feel constrained and tied down. If you can master your deadlines by outlining and planning realistically what you can do, in a set timeframe, meeting deadlines will no longer be a burden on you or your company.
Think MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
You may have heard of the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Essentially, this means building the bare minimum you need to include in your product to make it a useful solution to a problem. From there, you can enhance and optimize it after you ship it.
Shipping is a common term used in agile project management that developers use when they're ready to push new code to production. However, you can apply this same mindset to content creation too. You can do this and meet your deadlines by understanding the minimum essentials you need in your project to make it successful initially, understanding you can improve your project and processes as you move forward.
Aim To Ship, Not For Perfection
Seth Godin has a lot of awesome things to say about this—shooting for completing projects quickly instead of shooting for perfection.
- Write down your deadline. You'll publish on this date whether it's perfect or not.
- Gather everyone's ideas on your project.
- Share those ideas in a way everyone can see, and ask them to take a look. After they look or even miss their due date of looking, that's it. No more updates.
- Draft a blueprint of the project from those rough ideas.
- Get final approval for your project blueprint from the big wigs in your company.
- Ask the folks with sign-off authority a simple question: "If I deliver what you approved, on budget and on time, will you ship it?"
- Don't move forward until you get your yes. Seth says, "Once you get your yes, go away and build your project, thrash-free. Ship on time, because that's what a linchpin does."
While some of that relates to office bureaucracy, you get the idea. Start with a deadline, then give yourself permission to ship on time—no excuses.
2. Create A List Of What Needs To Get Done (And When)
Setting and maintaining timeline and project goals is arguably one of the most challenging parts of being a project manager. Whether you're a one-person operation or have a large team, keeping all these tasks on track and moving forward takes some attention to detail.
At CoSchedule, we once realized that we were running into this problem. Every Monday, the marketing team gets together to go over the last week's analytics, our plans for the upcoming week, and everyone's deadlines.
The plan is simple:
- Learn from the projects you went through last week, asking yourself three simple questions:
- What went well?
- What could we improve?
- What should we stop doing?
- Prioritize the projects that you must get done this week. Give everyone one goal to complete by the end of the week, no matter what.
- Review everything you're working toward as a team to understand who is the lead on certain projects, and who is in supporting roles. This is helpful because everyone knows the amount of work expected from them, giving them their chance to speak up if they think it's too much or too little, which helps everyone understand exactly how they'll contribute to meeting your collective deadlines.
Plan how you'll work together as a team to keep each other accountable for meeting your deadlines. Meet daily to talk through progress and roadblocks that may prevent you from shipping, and figure out a solution.
3. Set Smaller Deadlines Within Your Large Deadline
Each week, we put out two blog posts on our CoSchedule blog, among other templates and projects. Using CoSchedule's task templates is a huge life saver for us, especially since our team is spread out across a few different locations.
We have a set list of what needs to be done each week, and we rely on checklists built using task templates to help everyone working on the project know the steps they need to complete in order to help us publish our content on time.
Use these tips to break down your bigger deadlines into smaller ones:
- Look at the big picture and draw a road map of exactly what you need to do.
- Separate tasks based on who needs to complete them.
- Create an outline labeling what needs to be done and by when.
- Ask yourself what needs to be done in order? What can be done whenever?
- Delegate tasks based on who needs to do what, and then fill the gaps with tasks that can be done whenever.
We use task templates in CoSchedule to manage all of this. Here's an example of what these look like:
4. Build In Buffer Time
Write down all the tasks you need done and when you need them done by. Then, give each of these due dates a day or two of buffer room before they are actually due so you don't set yourself up for failure. This allows time to make needed changes, or even finish your work ahead of schedule.
"Write it down instead. Hand it to someone else. Publicize it. Associate it with an external reward or punishment. If you don't make the deadline, your friend gives the $20 you loaned her to a cause you disagree with..."
Deadlines give you the opportunity to beat the rush. Handing in work just a little bit early is a sure-fire way to tell a positive story and get the attention you seek.
5. Remember You Only Have So Much Room On Your Plate
This is one of those pieces of advice where it’s a “do as I say and not as I do”.
Many of us on our team struggle with this daily. We want to help everyone, do more, and be busy.
So we will have to work on this one together.
Everyone has 24 hours in a day; there are limitations to what can be done and what can be done well. You know your strengths and weaknesses, look at what is on your plate for the week and go from there.
Make it a point to write a mock schedule of everything you'd like to finish for the week. Do this weekly on Sunday night or Monday morning. Schedule in any meetings you have, and appointments or reasons you won't be in the office, and make sure you leave time for sleep (seriously).
Recommended Reading: What To Do On The Weekend To Increase Your Productivity On Monday
This will help you know exactly how much free time you have in the day and week, while keeping you accountable for meeting your personal deadlines, and helping you improve your time management skills.
This way, when someone comes to you with a new project or idea, you can look at your schedule and realistically know if you can fit one more thing on your plate or not. This way, you save yourself the stress and hassle of overdoing it.
Here's how to do it yourself:
- Value all your time: Know that you have 24 hours every day, just like everyone else (even Beyoncè). Hopping onto Facebook, texting, or a mindless zone out adds up. The average Facebook user spends 17 minutes on Facebook a day. That’s 4 and a half days a year. Imagine how much you could get done in that extra time.
- Focus on your work: While zoning out can distract from work, it’s a proven fact that daydreaming can actually put off the desire for future rewards because you envisioned success but did nothing to achieve it. Being actionable help you achieve your goals. Big game talk and day dreaming don't.
- End procrastination:
- Start easy.
- Break it down.
- Be nice to yourself.
- Get a good why.
- Be mindful.
6. Don’t Be Afraid To Delegate Tasks
The wonderful part about being on a team is that you have help. Sometimes as marketers, we've been conditioned to take on projects without much help because counting on people means leaving your success up to others.
It’s great that we have the passion to do a lot, but it can be our downfall. When you delegate tasks, it gives you more time to focus on other projects. It also gets new eyes on the other projects and helps you work quicker.
The Muse came up with a great list to help with delegating tasks:
- Decide what to delegate: Once you decide to ask for help, pick the projects you need help with. You want to focus on your own strengths and weaknesses to choose what tasks would be better delegated.
- Pick the right people: Just like you chose which tasks aren't right for your skill set, pick your team members who'll be rock stars at those tasks. If you need something edited, think about who the grammar wiz is on your team. Need something figured out with math? Find someone who is better with numbers, and so on. It can be hard to trust new people with a job, but ultimately, you have to do what is best for the project and the timeline.
- Communicate clearly: When you delegate tasks, sit down with your team and clearly spell out what you would like from each person. Getting everyone together may seem like a hassle, but in the long run, it will save you time and headaches.
- Check in, but don’t be overbearing: You handed off your tasks. Now you have to trust that your team are professionals and that they will take care of their tasks. It’s easy to want to check every three minutes to make sure everything is getting done, but you need to trust your team, check in sparingly, and then let them continue with their work as well.
- Give credit where credit is due: The project is done, your team worked hard and now you are ready to ship it. Make sure to acknowledge their hard work. They jumped in to help you out, don't take that for granted.
7. Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Clarification, Either
Your company expects you to be a self-starter and to take on new projects. These are great qualities to have, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for clarification on your projects before you get started. It'll save you time.
Save time in the long run by clarifying the expected outcome of your projects:
- Admit you're unsure and get the clarification you need.
- Ask open questions—this makes it easier to get more from people than "yes" or "no" answers, they are more likely to give you more detail of exactly what you are looking for if you ask open follow up questions.
- Ask for specific examples of outcomes to envision what your project will look like.
- Know the goal of the project. Focus on your audience's needs instead of just producing content because you can. Just because it's some of your best work doesn't mean that was what was being asked of you. Make sure to stay on task.
- Repeat what your team lead just told you to make sure you understand what they really mean.
8. Work During Your Most Productive Hours
Emails, phone calls, instant messages—with all these distractions, sometimes typical works hours may not be your most productive time of the day. When you are constantly being interrupted, it's hard to put your head down and really work.
Many time-saving tricks say “put your phone away” or “log out of your email”. Well, I don’t know about you, but when I turn off my e-mail and phone, I get anxiety. I feel like I'm going to miss something or someone needs me to take care of something, and I’m not getting my jobs done.
This constant worry is just as much of a distraction (if not more) as checking my email every hour. So instead of turning off my life, I just schedule the things I really need to focus on at night. It's then when I feel more awake and focused, and I can crank out blog posts or other projects faster, with typically fewer distractions.
Maybe you're a morning person. Get up early, reward yourself with a cup of your favorite coffee, and put your head down and tackle your biggest project for the day. Vice versa if you're a night owl.
You know yourself. Use your most productive hours to your advantage, and you'll be amazed by how much more you conquer in your day.
9. Work Toward Your Goals Every Day
Resist the urge to work on easier projects. Motivate yourself, maybe a mirror pep talk and then work toward your big picture goals at least a little bit every day. In the long run, you'll be so much happier when your plate becomes full again, and you're already ahead of the 8 ball.
Re-motivate yourself everyday.
Make time for yourself.
The more “you time” you get, the more refreshed and prepared you'll be to get your work done—and to meet your deadlines.
When you decide to take on a task each day, set aside 25 minutes to work on just that. Turn off as many distractions as you can. Then you can go back to “you time”. This is what some call the Pomodoro technique, a time-saving process to help you focus on accomplishing your work:
If you’re starting to feel demotivated, one of the best ways to get your energy back is to get on with your work. Make a checklist of what needs to be done for the day.
In Evernote, you can make an easy checklist with just a push of a button.
Using Evernote to keep checklists is easy because they are accessible 24/7 from my phone, laptop, or iPad. Here's how to make the most of this feature:
- Prioritize all of your ideas in an Evernote document.
- Make a list of tasks you need to complete today, tomorrow, and for the week.
- When you don't get a task done, make sure to put it at the top of the list for the next day.
- Attack the hardest tasks first. While it may seem easier to do the little things first, it would be too easy to keep pushing the big tasks off. This also defeats the purpose of trying to hit your deadline.
Don't have your phone on you? We're also a big fan of Post-It notes.
Write everything you need to finish for the day on a Post-It note. Stick it to your desk. Using this as a constant reminder will help keep you motivated. There is just something so satisfying about taking pen to paper and checking things off your to-do list.
It’s a lot like working out—it’s hard to get started, but it will get easier and easier.
10. Learn From Mistakes
Did you miss one of these steps? Take on too much? Make it a point to remember that for the future. If you are consistently following all of these steps, missing one will not set you back horribly, but if you start getting too far behind, that is when your deadlines start to suffer, and you'll feel like you're constantly playing catch up.
It's easy to feel like your latest mistake is the end of the world. I feel you, I am there about five times a day. But this is human nature; we were not built to be perfect. Mistakes help us grow and make us better. So use these mistakes and learn from them.
Recommended Reading: How To Unlock Quality Content From Your Low-Performing Posts
It’s just like my mom said, you are allowed to be sad or frustrated, but make sure you pick up and move on. You are not a tree, you are not stuck. You can pick yourself up and try again.
11. Never Push Deadlines
When researching this post, we read so many posts that included sections with sub-headings like, “Be Sure To Hit The Second Deadline”.
What was the point of writing the post in the first place if it ends with, “Oh it’s okay, you missed your deadline but just make sure you hit the extended deadline”?
It's understandable that sometimes things happen that derail productivity. However, sometimes you just need to work faster or set more attainable deadlines.
It's really as simple as that.
Now You Know How To Hit Due Dates Every Time
Hitting deadlines isn't easy. However, nothing worth doing is easy. These tips and tactics can make getting things done on time much easier though.
How do you plan to hit your deadlines from now on? Leave us a comment and let us know!
This post was originally published on Nov. 11, 2015. It was updated with new information on Sept. 12, 2016.