How to manage deadlines

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January 25, 2013
How to manage deadlines.

ThumbFreelancers (and anyone else who works for him or herself) know that the tide of work ebbs and flows. There’s little question, then, that given the rather capricious nature of incoming projects, it’s critical to meet deadlines—after all, there’s no quicker way of losing future work than failing to deliver present work on time. Here are a few practical steps to help keep you on the good side of the clock.

1. Agree to realistic deadlines

It’s easy to think you’re Superman and can make any deadline in a single bound; but if your plate is already full with work, or your kids have a baseball tournament that demands your presence, some deliver-by dates are simply not possible. But before you say no to a precious drop of work, try negotiating a slightly more doable deadline that allows for your circumstances. For example, if the client wants the goods by 8 a.m., counter the request by seeing if noon is acceptable. They may not agree, but at least you tried before turning it down. For longer term projects, mentally process how many hours it will take before blindly accepting the time frame; because remember—once you agree, it becomes your duty to finish on time, no matter how tight the deadline.

2. Fake yourself out

In other words, give yourself a 24 to 48-hour cushion by setting an early deadline, and then operate accordingly. If the project is due by EOD on Wednesday, shoot for Monday night. Finishing work early is something that, strangely, most people don’t usually consider; instead, we tend to fill the time we’re given no matter how long or short. By imposing an earlier cutoff time, you allow some wiggle room for unforeseen events like creative blocks, tech troubles, or that last-minute concert invitation you just can’t say no to. Best-case scenario you finish a day or two early and can reward yourself amply; worst case, you still meet your deadline—the real one—and that’s just fine, too.

3. Set mini goal points

A project that is due in three months is oftentimes more difficult to time-manage than the one you’re forced to crank out in three days. There’s more room in the former for procrastination, so it’s essential to mark out a few goal points. Say you’ve been commissioned to design a logo over a two-month period. Setting actual calendar marks for research, conception, and sketching; another mark for production and completing initial comps; and a final mark for client approval and revisions will help keep your work on track (and the logo from being haphazardly produced in the 11th hour).

4. Stay fueled

Okay, maybe it’s the Mom in me coming out, but you’ll be way more productive—and thus able to meet your deadline—if you eat regularly (and, dare I say, quasi-nutritiously) plus get enough sleep. To put it another way, running on pastries and espresso and 2.5 hours of shuteye is a surefire way to slow your rate of accomplishment. Sure, the occasional all-nighter and caffeine binge is par for the course, but this can’t be your regular modus operandi. Nourish your body and brain, and you’ll set yourself up for delivery-date success.

5. Remember you’re doing yourself a favor

Keeping yourself on task, refusing to procrastinate, and sticking to your word only benefits you. You’ll experience less stress. You’ll do better work. You’ll make your commissioner happy. You’ll get more jobs. You’ll feel a personal sense of pride. It could be argued that gaining any one of these perks is reason enough to be mindful of time management. But scoring all five? ‘Nuff said.

Does time management come easy for you or is it a struggle? What are some other ways you’ve found to meet deadlines? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, deadline image via Shutterstock.

Stacey Kole

Stacey Kole is a freelance writer and former magazine editor. When she’s not crafting copy or chasing after her two little boys, Stacey can be found drinking coffee, tea, or anything else with caffeine. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

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