Five Tips for Fighting with Deadlines

Ever feel the pressure to meet a looming deadline? This video out of the Savannah College of Art and Design employs post-it notes to provide a visual representation of that struggle.

Deadlines — those pesky little dates by which projects are due. The word “deadline” appears to have originated in an 1864 US congressional report regarding the detainment of prisoners during the Civil War.

A railing around the inside of the stockade, and about twenty feet from it, constitutes the ‘dead line,’ beyond which the prisoners are not allowed to pass.

It was an actual line, drawn in the dirt or marked by a fence or rail, restricting prisoners in Civil War camps. The men were warned, “If you cross this line, you’re dead.” Guards and prisoners often referred to the line by its descriptive name, the dead line.

The term has been adopted by journalism, and by extension publishing and writing, to communicate the importance of the latest date at which copy may still be used. The implication being that “Your story is dead if you go beyond this time to finish it.”

The fast pace of modern life has made deadlines essential not just for reporters and other writers but in every field and activity. There’s even a web app named Deadline to help.

My guess is that, like me, you feel hammered by deadlines. I hate to say it, but it’s our own fault. Poor attitudes, procrastination and lack of planning can pressure even the simplest and most enjoyable of projects.

Here are five tips for those of us who fight with deadlines:

  1. Adjust your attitude. Whether we realize it or not, attitude counts for a lot. A positive approach to tasks prevents us from getting bogged down in monotony (and even sick). A poor attitude slows our pace, lessens the quality of our work and alienates those who can help us.
  2. Prioritize tasks. Making a list of important tasks can save us from wasting time on trivial matters. A good priority list distinguishes between urgency (pressure to get some thing done) and priority (valuable and productive work). It can even help us to avoid procrastination by cutting unnecessary activities.
  3. Write fast.There’s something to be said for just getting the words on paper. We can worry about spelling, grammar and style after the project is written down. Completing short tasks — such as answering e-mail or composing blog posts — in small blocks of time can be an efficient way to get things done. Small blocks (e.g. ten minutes) are also a good tool to chip away at large projects.
  4. Anticipate problems. Large projects always require last minute changes. Planning ahead for revisions and corrections will save us from a world of trouble.
  5. Ask for help. It never hurts to ask. (If it does, we should find other people to work with.) Delegating tasks is an excellent, and sometimes necessary, way to get things done. However, we must be careful not to rely on the time-lines of others. They have their own challenges to deal with.

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About James A Woods
Freelance Writer, Constant Learner, Family Man

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