It’s tempting to think of deadlines as negative, especially when imposed on you by others. Deadlines can make you feel powerless, frustrated, even stressed if you feel it’s out of your control to meet them.

But deadlines can be extremely powerful too when used to positively manage yourself and drive your productivity, putting you back in control, motivated to finish and lifting your performance higher. Deadlines can bring out the best in you as you engage all your creative energy to ensure your deadline is met.

You might have the “potential” to do much more – but unless you have a deadline driving you forward, it’s easy for delays to slip in, or for perfectionism to slow you down, or even stop you.

Ironically, it can be when you’re less busy that this is most likely to happen, as there is no urgency to begin in good time. Often a similar slowdown occurs when you’re working on projects for your own benefit and there is no external pressure to meet. And of course, that’s when you’re most likely to be caught out by an unexpected project demanding attention as the deadline rapidly approaches.

So in the absence of deadlines from others why not set them for yourself?

It’ll keep you learning, developing and improving. For example “I’m going to run that distance even faster”, “I’m going to finish my professional exams by the end of 2014”, or “I’ll redesign my garden by the end of this summer”.

It’s rather like giving yourself that burst of extra energy many of us experience in the few days before we leave to go on holiday. Because you know that, come what may, you’re going to be out of there by 5pm on Friday afternoon and catching the plane, you develop a laser focus. You handle the most important actions with speed and cut through the distractions ruthlessly. If only we could experience that energy more often!

Well you can…

Set deadlines for yourself, and decide to reduce the time available to complete a task.

Psychologists call it the “time compression phenomenon” and nobody really knows why it works. But it does, and it’s very empowering as it forces you to release the perfectionism and focus purely on achieving a result on time. Perhaps you could decide to leave 15 minutes earlier this evening. Or use a timer – set yourself a deadline of just 30 minutes to write a report, for example.

Making your deadline public is an effective way to increase that time compression even further. In the early 1960s, President Kennedy did this when he confidently set a deadline of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. At the time this was to say the least, a bold, seemingly impossible task. Yet it was achieved by 1969, as the deadline brought the essential energy and focus to the project.

Personally, I use this “time compression” strategy regularly because one of the challenges of running a business is that you have to be your own taskmaster. It’s easy for important projects to slip because another takes its place as a higher priority. I strongly identify with the sentiment of Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) who wrote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by…”

Some days mine could be a very noisy office!

So when I’m developing a new course or product, I create a deadline for myself. I set the date, book the venue and send out the publicity material because this ensures all will be ready in time. It has to be – there is no other option. And I know it gives me that little extra push to complete it.

So I recommend this strategy to help you to achieve more. Don’t wait for others to impose a deadline on you. Set yourself the deadline, stick to it and enjoy the tremendous satisfaction that comes from knowing you’re truly working at the best of your ability.
Do it for you.

Rosie Gray helps superbusy people better manage their precious time, feel less stressed and achieve much more. As a result, productivity improves and "life" returns to their "work/life balance" equation. After working at a senior level in fast-paced ... (Read More)

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