8 Tips to Meet Deadlines Without Over-Stressing Yourself

Here are 8 best practices to set realistic deadlines and meet them... without feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

How to meet deadlines tips

We’ve all fallen victim to a tight deadline before, whether it be from when we were students, pulling an all-nighter to get an essay done, or from those times when we’ve had to order some cheap takeout dinner to have at our desk because it’s the only way to meet a due date. Believe it or not, there are ways to meet deadlines without completely stressing out. It mostly comes down to time management, organization and communication. 

Because deadlines matter, Fellow has created a comprehensive guide with 8 tips to meet deadlines. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, let’s start by understanding what deadlines are and why they matter: 

What are deadlines?

Deadlines are essentially due dates for specific tasks or projects on the go. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a deadline as: 

“A point in time by which something must be done.”

In the business world, deadlines are typically assigned to tasks or projects. The deadline then gives you an idea of how to prioritize your responsibilities and also indicates the level of urgency of the tasks you’re taking on. 

Assigned to You Action Item

Why deadlines matter

Although deadlines are often associated with a somewhat negative dogma of being stressful, they’re actually very beneficial for keeping us on track at work.

Deadlines keep you accountable for your goals because only you have responsibility for the outcome. By keeping you accountable, deadlines help you focus and reduce procrastination, which makes it easier to assess your workload and say no to other requests. 

Another benefit is that deadlines help us meet team goals and make sure that everyone is working in sync. These ideas are reiterated in a recent article by the Harvard Business Review: 

“Deadlines are a prioritization tool that tell you a given project is important to focus on. They make it easier to honestly assess your workload.” 

Now that you have an idea of what deadlines are and why they matter, here are 8 helpful tips for getting things done on time without stressing out (too hard): 

8 tips to meet your deadlines

1 Communicate a clear deadline 

Make sure that a clear deadline has been communicated. Whether it’s in a team meeting, one-on-one meeting, or a project kick-off, it needs to be crystal clear when the project or action item is due. 

In a different article by the Harvard Business Review, the importance of communicating a deadline is highlighted: 

“Often, the strictness of a deadline is ambiguous: Employees may not know if the deadline is movable or not. When facing this ambiguity, employees who feel less secure in their jobs – which more often are female employees – may be more likely to err on the side of caution and avoid asking for more time. When assigning tasks, managers should clearly communicate deadline expectations and whether or not it is adjustable.” 

Ambiguity is the enemy of productivity so it’s very important that as a manager you are clear with your deadlines and meeting action items, or, that as an employee you’re asking your manager for a specific due date to avoid confusion. 

Assign clear deadlines with Fellow’s action items feature

2 Break down the project 

A really great approach to tackle deadlines is to break down big projects into different milestones and action items. When you break it down into smaller tasks, you’re going to gain a stronger idea of how much time you need to complete each task and gauge if you’ll be able to meet the initial deadline set. 

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”  – Henry Ford

If you realize there’s no way you’re going to hit the due date on time, be sure to raise this ASAP. Either you’ll get more time, or a little support, which are both positive solutions. 

3 Have a start and completion date for each step

By breaking down your larger project, you can create a list with a start and completion date for each smaller task you’ve identified. This helps you get a good feel of the timeline you’re working with and is going to tell you if you’re on schedule or falling a little bit behind. 

Cross Functional Collaboration

In being specific with your start and completion dates, you’ll notice that it feels very motivating to see your progress as you check things off your project deadline list. Plus, it’s going to help you identify the tasks that you haven’t gotten to yet, so that the result is a completed project. 

4 Block off time on your calendar 

You might have heard about time blocking before: It’s a time management technique that basically means making a detailed schedule in your calendar, describing what you’ll be focusing on, for how many hours, on each day of your work week. You can time block everything from work projects, reminders, personal time and even meal times. 

Time Blocking

In an interview conducted by Forbes about why highly productive people use time blocking, Entrepreneur Abby Lawson shares: 

“I plan out pretty much every minute of the day, what’s going to be happening. It rarely goes exactly how I have it planned, but what it does for me is it gives me kind of deadlines, and times during the day that I have to meet and be done with this certain task. It keeps me on task, and a lot less likely to go down the Facebook rabbit hole, or get distracted by something else because I know that if I take too much time on this task, it pushes the rest of my schedule back, and I won’t complete everything that I set out to do that day.” 

5 Focus on action (vs. motion) 

The next tip for meeting your deadlines without over-stressing is to focus on taking action and being proactive. Author of Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that there’s a big difference between action and motion

“When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome… Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself. It doesn’t matter how many times you go talk to the personal trainer, that motion will never get you in shape. Only the action of working out will get the result you’re looking to achieve.”

According to James Clear, some ways of taking action, rather than finding yourself in motion include setting a schedule for your actions (like we recommend in tip 4) and picking a date to shift from motion to action (like we recommend in tip 3). 

6 Communicate progress with your team

We already know that communication is key in both personal and working relationships. It’s essential that you communicate your progress and let each team member involved in the project know when you complete a task, especially if you’re working on a cross-functional project. Because each person’s individual tasks contribute to larger organizational goals, it’s super helpful to know where your counterparts are at with their responsibilities and how much closer you are collectively to reaching your team goals.

Track project deadlines and action items with Fellow’s Streams

Fellow Streams Feature

7 Add a buffer time

Make sure to give yourself some buffer time, which is extra time added to your initial time estimate so that you can give yourself some leeway (in case you need a little extra time to get things done). In a great article by the Harvard Business Review written by Dana Rousmaniere the Managing Editor of HBR’s Insight Centers, she highlights: 

“Just be sure that you assign deadlines to the work that matters most, allow a little buffer time to plan for any contingencies, and keep stakeholders informed if you hit an issue that could prevent you from meeting a milestone. With the right strategies in place, you can get a productivity boost out of deadlines without taking on the stress.” 

Adding a buffer time is helpful for dealing with unforeseen situations or hiccups over the course of completing a project. Again, don’t forget to speak up and communicate those hiccups!

8 Don’t overcommit 

Don’t stress yourself out by taking on too much and then freaking out about how to get it all done. Don’t overcommit and put yourself in a situation where you’re unable to meet deadlines you’ve previously agreed to. This is a means to an end because it can end up looking like a bad reflection of your work ethic or ability to produce a completed project. Even worse, when we’re overwhelmed and feel like we’re trying to accomplish a million things at the same time, we’re not being efficient.

Create your own boundaries and don’t be afraid to turn down work if you know that you’ve already got your hands full. 

How to meet deadlines (TLDR)

Deadlines don’t have to go hand-in-hand with stress. There’s actually a lot of ways that we can meet our due dates without going into panic mode:

  1. Communicate a clear deadline
  2. Break down the project
  3. Have a start and complete date for each step
  4. Block off time on your calendar
  5. Focus on action (vs. motion)
  6. Communicate progress with your team
  7. Add a buffer time
  8. Don’t overcommit

 It’s really important to understand what deadlines are and why they matter so much so that you can begin to integrate the best practices for meeting deadlines (without over-stressing) into your work day.

Once you have this baseline, revisit this article to go through Fellow’s 8 tips to meet deadlines. Better yet, if you found this article helpful, send it over to a friend or colleague who could benefit from it!

Related Posts