How to Use Deadlines to Make Life Better

Deadlines can be tools for focus and achievement, if used well. Check out these 4 easy tips to getting things done faster.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #206

Tip #3: Use Semi-Short Deadlines in Projects

Deadlines work even if they're not as tight as an hour from now. When you have a long-term project, set milestones every 2-3 days. That gives you a deadline to work towards that's close enough to be motivating, yet far enough away to get some real work done. In any ongoing project, I try to have at least one--preferably two--milestones each week. Here's why:

If you miss a milestone by one day, how long does it take you to catch up? You're one day behind. Simple math tells us if you work 25% overtime, it will take you four days to catch up. Doable. Unpleasant, but doable. (Kind of like my first kiss in high school .)

But if you fall a week behind, it will take you an entire month of 25% overtime to catch up. That's simply impossible. With frequent milestones, you know sooner when you've slipped, and you can take corrective action immediately.

Tip #4: Use a Hard Stop Deadline at the End of Your Day

Some of us are self-employed, or students, or just compulsive over-workers. We do things like listen to personal productivity podcasts for fun. For us, it may take conscious effort to work less. Work less by setting a firm deadline for yourself. Decide you'll leave the office at 5:30 pm. Of course, you make it a real deadline by scheduling a 5:30 pm meeting at home, or at your dorm. I used to carpool. No one, not even me, argued when I said, "I have to leave at 5:30 to catch my carpool home.”

As the afternoon comes around, your end-of-day deadline will motivate you to focus and really get stuff done. Then when you leave, your mind will be clear as a babbling brook upstream from any industrial processes.

Here’s the Quick and Dirty:

  • Deadlines can be your friend.

  • Set them frequently so they compel focus. (I'm writing this episode during a Do-It Day, knowing I have only 7 minutes left before I report in.)

  • Use back-to-back meetings as an excuse to usher things along.

  • Use 2-3 day deadlines to keep projects moving and detect early slips.

  • Go home using an end-of-day deadline.

  • And for goodness' sake, demand an office with a door. Cubicles suck!

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Deadline image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.