There is an art to creating deadlines that work. You want your deadlines to stick so that you can get more done, and be even more amazing than you already are. But, if you tend to underestimate how long something takes, or your skill at doing it fast, you may constantly miss deadlines that you set for yourself or that others set for you. Thankfully, there are ways to ensure that you can set deadlines that stick.
Do The Research
When you approach anything that needs deadlines set, don’t just look at the end result; look at the tasks that take up the work to get to the end result. Understand exactly what each step involves. Find out how long it takes other people to do the task. If you don’t, you can’t make a reasonable deadline.
Test Things Out
When you are asked to do something new and need to set a deadline, try out a small portion of the task to see how long it will take you so you can best make predictions on time. Remember that when someone else is asking you for a deadline or even suggesting deadlines; if they don’t know what it takes, they’re just pulling a date out of the air. You need to do better than that.
Understand the Scope of the Project
Ensure that you ask the right questions about the project so that you know what the true scope is. For example, you're a web designer and someone says, “How much does it cost to build a website?” That leaves a lot of questions unanswered. There is no way to make a deadline with that information.
Start at the End and Work Backwards
Every project has a final deliverable. Start with that deliverable and work your way through all the tasks that need to get done to reach that final deliverable. Make an outline for each project so that you know everything that has to be done. Some people find it useful to make a mind map for each project. Then you can take that and use it to set realistic deadlines that stick.
Break Down Larger Projects
There is much more to a project than the deliverable. There are steps leading up to the end product or end result. For example if you set a deadline to create a new product in 90 days and it requires several steps, you need to set smaller time-frames for each step in order to accomplish that. Now, what steps will that take? The same can be stated about a project like a website. First you need a domain name, then you need to pick colors, then you need to choose design elements, and so forth.
Set Small Deadlines
Once you break down a project into smaller chunks, set deadlines for those pieces of the project. Some things have to be done in a particular order, other things don’t matter. Knowing this helps with assigning and delegating tasks and setting deadlines for them too.
Add Margin Time
There is a law called Hofstadter’s Law which basically says that everything takes longer than you think. So, add in some extra time. Commonly people multiply the time they think it will take by 1.5. However, if you find you are not meeting deadlines, determine the factor you need for your deadlines. It might be two times your initial estimate.
While you want to be impressive as a person, don’t try to do too much at once. Look at your entire schedule. Include free time, sleeping time, family time, alone time, eating, exercise, appointments and so forth into your schedule so that you can be realistic about how much time you have to work on any given project or part of a project.
Creating deadlines that stick is a process that requires some thought. But, once you get into the habit of making deadlines that stick, you’ll be able to get much more done each day. We tend to fill up our time with something - why not fill up your time with activities and actions that are designed to get things done?