If you have a deadline that is weeks or months away, it can be hard to get started during the first week. Procrastination has to be one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in meeting deadlines. I have been in situations where I kept telling myself I have plenty of time to get something done and then suddenly the deadline was two days away and I had a ton to do.
Luckily, the solution is simple. All you need to do is break a project down into smaller parts and then create a mini timeline for yourself that allows you to complete each part at different points so that you can finish the entire project before your deadline. In other words, you’re creating a series of pseudo-deadlines that will steadily get you to your end goal. How exactly do you meet these pseudo-deadlines? Technology.
Technology can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to both my professional and personal life. Personally, I’m very easily distracted by social media. I tell myself that I’m going on Facebook to do just one little quick thing and 2 hours later, I’m still on there and have completely wasted my time. Professionally, there are so many tools and programs out there to keep yourself organized that it’s easy to overwhelm yourself and not really know what works best for you. Even though I use technology and social media for so many elements of my life, I tend to stick to a paper and pen for my to do lists and calendar. This post inspired me to do some research on what kind of tools are out there to help both employees and entrepreneurs meet their deadlines. Here are a few tools that I have been using or have recently discovered work wonders for me.
For work, I use Outlook, but for my personal and blog life, Gmail and Google Calendar are great deadline tools. Google calendar allows you to color code different calendars (my friends and family know I love color coding), share your calendar content, and stay on schedule using reminders. You can set up different calendars for different categories, like project deadlines, appointments, social engagements, menu planning, and anything else you need to accomplish. There is something nostalgic to me about using a paper calendar but it’s not always practical. Depending on what you have going on in your life, Google Calendar can be a great asset to help you juggle a collection of moving parts.
Boomerang for Gmail is a browser plugin that adds a time element to your email. Using this tool, you can schedule messages to send later (great for sending international emails at appropriate times). If you want to remind yourself to check back on an email you received, you can boomerang a message to return it to the top of your inbox. This is a great tool for managing life deadlines like bills. The tool can also detect due dates from emails and suggest a date for the message to return. You can use it to remind yourself to follow up with people that don’t respond to emails you sent. After a pre-specified time period, the message will return to the top of your inbox to remind you to follow up later.
For my life as a pharmacist, I can’t function without my Outlook calendar. I designate every category with a different color. It helps me stay on top of things and keep different moving parts organized. Before I go home, I like to check out what the rest of my week looks like and if there is anything I should do to prepare in case I missed something. Though the main function of the calendar is meetings, I like to create meeting invites for tasks I’m planning on accomplishing that day. For example, “review slide deck by today” or “send email update to Joanne.” By including it with my list of meetings, I’m mentally preparing myself that this is a task that absolutely needs to be completed before I leave for the day. If I feel like my list is way too long and there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done, I’ll try to knock out the easier tasks and gradually work my way to the big stuff.
Evernote is a fantastic tool for note taking and archiving. The note can include text, photos, voice memos, handwritten notes, webpage excerpts, and file attachments. You can also sort your notes into folders and tag the notes. I’ve always been more of a Word document kind of girl, but in doing research for this article, I realized how great the functionality is with Evernote. I’m using it for blog notes, post ideas, pitches, and collaboration ideas and it has been instrumental in keeping me organized and moving forward.
This may be an obvious one but Excel is a huge asset. This was such an amazing tool when I was wedding planning and applying for residencies. While planning my wedding, I used different Excel spreadsheets to keep track of guest lists, budgets, seating charts, vendor payments, and thank you cards. You can also include a status column so that you can sort by whether a project is open or closed. I had a quarterly project I used to lead at work and I used an excel spreadsheet with bottom tabs for each quarter to keep track of which pieces were completed, which emails still needed to be sent, and any missing parts that needed to be addressed before each quarter was officially marked complete.
Other tools you can use include TeuxDeux, Producteev, Remember the Milk (RTM), SmartSheet, Pocket, Buffer, and Lovely. My dad always says, “How do you eat an elephant?” and the correct answer is, “Bit by bit.” It’s a computer-programming joke and you probably had to be there. Though I don’t recommend eating any elephants to meet your deadlines, tackling your task list is really the same idea. Break up bigger projects into manageable action items you can prioritize using freely available tools.
What do you do if you still can’t meet your deadline? I remember during a job interview I had a few years ago, one of the questions was, “What would you do if you couldn’t meet a deadline?” Though it’s tempting to say you never miss a deadline, that is just not realistic. There are so many competing priorities in both your work and home life. If you know you’re going to be late on an assignment, don’t wait until the last minute to let your manager know.
Reach out and be honest. Explain the situation and when you realistically think you can complete this project. Your manager will respect you for planning ahead and for your honesty. I never want to sabotage anyone who is depending on me to get something done. If possible, I try to get projects done ahead of time but that isn’t always a realistic expectation. Using the tools above, I’m able to prioritize and balance my life as a pharmacist and blogger.
Have you used any of these tools to meet your deadlines? Have you ever not met a deadline? How did you handle it?