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Tick Tock: 5 Tips for Managing Deadlines

Do you ever feel like you are chasing the clock, struggling to meet important project deadlines? The culprit could be unhealthy time management habits. Left unresolved, these habits can lead to hectic cram sessions, substandard work, or failure to meet client timelines. Eventually, even larger-scale problems can arise, like losing clients’ trust and having to turn away business. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these serious consequences—use these time management tips to regain control of your schedule and work more efficiently.

  1. Organize.
    Staying organized may be easier said than done, but a few simple steps can help. Writing down tasks in a list lets you physically see all the projects you are responsible for each week. Don’t forget to budget time for miscellaneous projects that are with the client or “on hold”—they may resurface with last-minute requests or edits. Another great way to organize your projects is using management tools like Basecamp, which keep all the relevant information in one place.
  2. Focus.
    Multi-tasking may seem like a valuable skill, but when we quickly switch back and forth among different tasks, our brains can lose focus, and productivity drops. (For more on this, listen to The Myth of Multitasking.) Instead of trying to address all of your projects at once, force yourself to focus on one at a time. When you start to feel burned out or unmotivated, switch to another assignment. Your overall work quality will benefit, and your stress level may actually decrease as well.
  3. Pad your deadline.
    When planning large projects, it is wise to give yourself extra cushion by setting two deadlines: your internal “goal” deadline, and the real deal, drop-dead date. Padding your deadline allows you to set realistic expectations and have extra wiggle room for any delays or last-minute fire drills. Also, keep in mind that most printers require two weeks to print large or complex projects, and client and legal reviews can consume a lot of calendar time as well.
  4. Don’t procrastinate.
    Projects with longer time frames can suffer from a lack of urgency. They’re difficult to get going because there is no huge rush or looming deadline. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have “plenty of time,” or “it’s no problem to wait until tomorrow.” Avoid procrastination by breaking down overwhelming projects into smaller, more manageable components. Also, aim to complete your high-priority projects first, even if they’re not due the soonest. Once those are completed, you can devote time to finishing easier/smaller tasks quickly.
  5. Communicate.
    Communicating during every step of a project helps keep everybody on the same page and avoid any last-minute adjustments. Ask for feedback early in the design stage by holding a “progress critique.” This allows you to understand all expectations of a project, ask questions, clearly explain your ideas, and confirm that you are on the right track. And if you find yourself in over your head and chasing the clock, remember that it is okay to ask for help and delegate tasks.