Three ways to make counting down add up
I recently celebrated a birthday, which means I’m less than a year away from the Big 6-0. While I expect my family and friends to throw me a seriously butt-kicking party to celebrate this major milestone, I also realize that I can use this occasion to give myself any number of “presents” in the form of challenges met, goals accomplished, and money made.
In other words, I can use my countdown to 60 as a deadline – and an inspiration.
In fact, I’m seriously considering replacing the word “deadline” with “inspirational due date” in future conversations with myself and others. After all, think about it:
- The very word “deadline” has almost inescapable connotations of fear and stress.
- Because of those negative emotions, it’s easy to postpone work on the project, whatever it is – and the resulting last-minute scramble to complete it will probably yield results that fall far short of your highest-quality work.
- When you’re “on deadline” (especially a short one), that project becomes your A1 priority – which means that other important tasks may get neglected.
- And, while you might be motivated by a deadline, is anyone really energized or inspired by something with the word “dead” in it? Not so much.
The challenge for you if you’re a business owner or entrepreneur is that, for the most part, nobody hands you your due dates; you set those yourself. It’s a real double whammy: You get to decide on the due date and meet it. Yippee.
And you’ve gotta ask yourself: How many times have you met your deadline but with a mediocre-quality product? How many deadlines have you missed entirely? What does this cost you in hard dollars and cents?
The truth is that the concept behind “deadline” is very powerful. When you approach counting down to a due date/deadline in the right way, you…
- can plan ahead and thus avoid last-minute panic
- don’t have to ignore other important tasks (and thus creating deadline pressure down the road) for the sake of meeting this deadline
- can take time to turn out exceptional results
- are held accountable for producing results in a timely manner
- are vastly more productive
“In the right way”…that’s the rub.
As someone who’s experienced both the exhilaration of turning in top-notch results well ahead of the due date and the pain of scraping by to meet a deadline (or even missing it outright), I’ve identified six ways to ensure I’m on time – if not early – when it comes to making my due dates. While several of these may sound familiar, I think you’ll find a new spin on them that just might make them work better for you this time around.
Procrastination: The world’s greatest success killer.
Let’s explore the first three.
Don’t start from scratch!
Duplication of effort is an enormous energy drain and time waster, yet it’s all too easy to get stuck in “re-invent the wheel” mode.
Instead, when you’re faced with a due date for some type of deliverable, delve into your existing files and analyze your past approaches to similar situations. Chances are excellent that you’ll jump-start some great ideas for your current project, and perhaps even find some content or processes you can re-purpose for your current needs.
Take advantage of templates.
If you take that first strategy one step further, you’ll end up viewing any project from two perspectives:
- Immediate: How can you effectively complete the current “assignment”?
- Future: How can you use the structure and process you develop for this situation to create a template or a system for upcoming projects?
Just imagine how fabulous it would feel, when faced with some task, to go straight to your templates folder and find one that will launch you on your project and enable you to produce the final results for your client before the agreed-upon due date. It’s so much better than frantically searching while muttering to yourself, “I know I’ve done something very similar before. Where’s the damn file??”
Yes, yes, we’ve all heard it a zillion times: Work backwards from your goal’s deadline and create sub-goals with interim deadlines. (Yawn.)
What I’m suggesting is that you set your first interim due date to be no more than five minutes from the time when you first get (or give yourself) the assignment.
Think about it. You’ve just signed a new consulting client, or accepted an offer to speak in front of hundreds of your ideal clients, or been selected as a contributor to an article in the Huffington Post. Your excitement right at that moment is probably higher than it will be at any time other than cashing the check, accepting the thunderous applause, or creating a waiting list for people who have read your article and now can’t wait to work with the problem-solver of their dreams (that would be you).
Ride that wave! Getting started on any project is typically one of the hardest steps, so use your in-the-moment excitement, energy, and focus to start preparing NOW.
I freely (albeit unhappily) admit that this approach has backfired on me a couple of times. For example, last year I was so excited about submitting a proposal to speak at a big conference that I did so two full months before the deadline. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that I failed to consider the possibility of coming up with improvements to my submission – which is exactly what happened when I reviewed it a few days later. I thought I was simply going to bask in a job well done; what really happened was that I found any number of subtle but significant ways to tighten it up.
Fortunately, the conference organizers were very patient about receiving no fewer than three “final” drafts. (I never claimed to always be the world’s speediest learner.) Everything worked out well – they accepted my final final proposal, and I wowed the audience – but it was still pretty embarrassing for me.
The bottom-line lesson learned: Strive to find an effective balance between “early” and “too early.”
Those are the first three approaches to making friends with your due dates. Does one particularly resonate with you? Or do you think you can take advantage of all three?
Or do these ideas make you feel like your head might explode if you add just one more thing to your already bulging Too Much To Do list? Having dealt with head explosions of my own in the past, I know they are a Bad Thing, and I might be able to help you protect your own head.
My specialty is working with overwhelmed or scattered entrepreneurs to get them back in control of their activities – and their results. Could we work together to accomplish this for you? Definitely. Is it something we should do? There’s no way to know until we get acquainted a bit.
The easiest way to do that is through a brief, no-risk, no-charge phone or Skype call. By asking and answering some questions, we can both confidently decide whether we would or would not make a great butt-kicking team.
Setting up that call is easy: Just pick a convenient time in my calendar, and we’ll see what we see.
(Just a thought…If this sounds worth exploring, now would be a great time to implement the “start NOW” strategy I mentioned earlier. It will take you three minutes or less to choose a date on my calendar, and your “payment” will be thirty minutes or so of your time. Isn’t your business worth it?)
Thanks to the Timor-Leste Ministry of Finance (!) for posting the “due date” image on their website.This entry was posted in effectiveness, first steps and tagged productivity. Bookmark the permalink.