Build Your Skills

How to Use Deadlines to Supercharge Your Productivity

Lesson 5

When you face an externally enforced deadline, you usually put things off until the last moment and then get everything done in time. When you set deadlines for yourself, you can easily just change the deadline.

Here are the steps you can take to A) be as productive as you are in the last moments before a deadline approaches, more often and B) set your own deadlines and still manage to get that productivity boost.​

Step 1: Set Deadlines & Write Them Down

Okay, this might seem too obvious, but it needs to be said: make setting deadlines for your projects part of your work habits. To get the productivity benefits from deadlines, it's not enough to just think "I'll get this done by X" to yourself. Write down your deadline and commit to it.

Details on how to do this are covered in the SMART goal section in this lesson.​

Step 2: Short Deadlines & Milestones

As we know, we tend to get a productivity boost as the end of a deadline approaches. Fortunately, there's a simple hack you can apply, to get this productivity boost more frequently and also make yourself more likely to stick to the deadline you've set for yourself.

Milestones - Action Steps

  • Generally, work with short deadlines. It's good to have longer term goals, but large projects should always be broken down into smaller milestones. Example: long goal = finish the book, milestones = finish one chapter at a time.
  • Whenever you set a deadline for more than 2 days in the future, set yourself intermediate milestones with their own deadlines. Example: I want to finish a new video post in 3 days. I set a deadline to record by the end of today, edit tomorrow and finish the written part on day 3.
  • Think of your deadlines (and write them down) in smaller units of time. Think "30 days" instead of "1 month". Think "16 working hours" instead of "2 days".

Step 3: Add Accountability

There are several things you can do to make self-imposed deadlines more "real" and they are all related to accountability.​

Accountability - Action Steps

  • Find an accountability partner. Announce your projects and deadlines to each other and hold each other accountable to stick to them. An accountability partner can also be a mentor or someone you look up to, so that there is added pressure of not wanting to let this person down.
  • Publicly announce your deadline: if you have an audience already, announce your deadlines to them. Tell them when your new product will be for sale, when your epic blog post will be published etc.
  • Pre-sell your product: provide an early bird special and give people the opportunity to purchase your product before it's finished. Once you have customers waiting, the pressure to get the product done in time becomes very real.
  • Use an accountability system: apps like Stickk and BeeMinder let you put some money on the line. Miss your deadline and your credit card is charged.

Step 4: Reward Yourself for Meeting the Deadline

​In the lesson about habits we already saw how important it is to have some kind of reward at the end of your desired behavior. This works well in combination with deadlines. A deadline is a clear end point at which you can assess whether you've achieved your goal or not. If you have, you can reward yourself to reinforce the habit of sticking to your own deadlines.

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