281 - How to Deal with Deadline Pressure
Deadline pressure is something that's universal in every industry, as are the anxious feelings associated with a shortage of time. But, have no fear. There are some methods to reduce or minimize the stress and anxiety of approaching deadlines, that will better prepare you to meet them.
Setting your own deadlines
The first thing I suggest you do is to create artificial deadlines for yourself. Play with your perspective to manipulate time. Understand that you can save yourself a load of stress by acting as if something is due earlier than it actually is. Knowing there's both an artificial and "real" deadline becomes a part of your subconscious and unconscious. Mentally, this creates a stress-free zone when there's a time crunch.
As I was preparing to leave for college, my older brother gave me an excellent piece of advice: "Move each assignment in your syllabus up one week." For every paper due, every test, I prepared early; and this allowed me to build in extra time to finish the project. I was ready to deal with any unforeseen circumstances, even if these circumstances never materialized.
You also give yourself extra time to ask others for their input. When you have a draft of a project finished early, you could, for example, take it into your supervisor. Explain that you want to produce the highest quality work possible, so you finished the first draft of the project a week early, in order to make any necessary adjustments. Ask him or her to let you know if you're on the right track. This will lead to a much-improved project (and can even endear you to your supervisors). So, practice setting artificial deadlines, and you'll discover one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary time crunches as well as any anxiety.
For many people faced with a looming deadline, their ego will not allow them to take the appropriate action and ask for help in order to finish in a timely fashion. Often, this is because they're afraid of how this will be perceived by others. They're worried others will view them as inept for having to ask for help. This ultimately leads to procrastination, and even more pressure builds up as the deadline rapidly approaches. You can reduce this pressure by checking your ego at the door and simply asking others for help. To accomplish an assignment quickly, ask someone who's already accomplished that task. Most likely, she already has a system in place, or a shortcut she can share. Leverage her experience and situational knowledge to save yourself time and avoid anxiety.
Another way to get help from others is to ask for an extension. Oftentimes, asking for a short extension can make a world of difference in the way you feel. Most people will be quite willing to give you that extension, despite your belief that there's a hard deadline, when that isn't necessarily the case.
People will work with you if you're upfront about needing more time to adequately meet your project goals. Hard deadlines are not always what they seem, and it never hurts to ask. What does hurt is asking too often for extensions. This can cause people to feel used, taken advantage of or manipulated. And their perception becomes that you're not accountable and you have poor time management skills. If you smartly manage the time up front, this will never be the case.
Finally, don't overpromise when setting your own deadlines. Sometimes we impose needlessly assumed deadlines upon ourselves for one reason only -- our ego. We aren't humble enough and don't take a second to think about the potential ramifications of being overconfident, overpromising and trying to over-deliver. Do not paint yourself into a corner by saying you'll get something done right away, or specify a very short deadline, without having a plan in place to make it happen.
Reverse engineer your timeframe in order to avoid time pressures. This will allow you to manage expectations of yourself and those of others. Start from the end of the task and work your way back to see how long it will likely take. If possible, when you're handed a new project, take some time -- whether a few minutes or an hour -- to contemplate how long each step in the process will take in both the best case and worst-case scenarios. Then strike a balance between the two.
No longer under pressure
The pressure from almost any time crunch is avoidable when you take decisive steps to relieve that pressure. Set your own deadlines, and build in time to make adjustments. Ask others for help, either in completing your assignment or giving you an extension.
With your ego out of the way, you'll feel less pressure and be more empowered to excel in completing all of your projects.