Deadlines are an extremely valuable tool to use as you pursue your goals. As a college professor, I see this all too clearly. If assignments didn’t have deadlines, most students wouldn’t complete them. If you left every deadline until the end of the course, all of the work would be done at the end of the course. Deadlines naturally spur people, pushing them to complete the project at hand.
The same phenomenon can be seen when you are preparing to go on a vacation. Have you ever noticed how much more work you get done on the day before you leave? It is because you have a firm deadline looming, and tasks that need to get done before you leave.
This phenomenon can be used as you pursue your goals. Having a deadline will force you to move forward. You will need to work hard to reach your goal by the deadline, and as the deadline gets near it will inspire you focus hard and get the project done.
Here is how to make use of deadlines to help you reach your goals more quickly:
1. Make a deadline for every major goal that you are pursuing.
Every major goal you have needs an accompanying deadline. If the goal is important enough for you to set and pursue then it is important enough to have a deadline for completing it. If you set the deadline for the major goal, you can then break down the goal into monthly and weekly components that will help you stay on the right timeline.
Some of your life goals may be continual, or ongoing, goals. These might better considered habits that you are working to create. For me, these include things such as working out five times a week, writing five days a week etc. While they don’t need to have an extra deadline, you should do a weekly review of all of these goals to ensure that you are making progress. By doing this you are able to create a weekly deadline to have completed that task the number of times you want. So, for example, my workout goal has a weekly deadline; to reach it I need to have worked out five times by the end of the week.
2. Make the deadlines external
The best deadlines are deadlines that are set for you by someone else. For students the deadline for handing in an assignment often helps them have the surge in energy needed to finish. For you it might be the tax filing deadline that creates action as you drop other things to get your taxes done. Both of these are examples of external deadlines.
As you set personal deadlines for achieving goals, you need to hold yourself to them like an external deadline. You can do this by putting some form of external pressure on your internal goals. You can do this by:
- sharing the deadline with many people around you so that they hold you accountable and apply peer pressure
- placing your deadline around an existing external deadline, such as a vacation, holiday or special event (ie. making your goal to complete your project before you leave for an Easter weekend trip)
- giving yourself a significant reward, but only if you complete your goal before a set deadline
- committing to someone else that you will complete something by a certain time so that they can take the next step in the project
- having a partner that you work with and both share the same deadline
Any of these methods can help increase the power of your deadline by applying external pressure.
3. Make the deadlines firm
Many times people who are pursing a goal will set a deadline only to continually be pushing back the deadline because they aren’t going to reach the goal. You need to make the deadline firm. There cannot be any extensions. You simply need to get it done. If you get in the habit of giving yourself extensions you will start to rely on them. Eventually you will get in the habit of never reaching the deadlines that you set for yourself.
4. Make the deadlines appropriate
You deadline needs to be appropriate. This means that the deadline cannot be too easy to reach, or too hard. If it is too easy, you simply won’t get started because you will always believe you have all the time in the world to complete your goal. After all, you believe the goal is really easy to achieve by the deadline. Unfortunately when this happens the time will fly by and you may not think about the deadline again until it is too late. You need a deadline that will cause you to get started right away.
The deadline also can not be too hard. If the deadline looks like it cannot be met, you will quickly become discouraged and stop pursuing the deadline; you will give up, because you don’t believe you can succeed in time.
Instead, make the deadline challenging, but reachable. In order to do that you will need to learn your tendencies. Do you tend to overestimate what you can accomplish with your time, or underestimate your ability? I tend to overestimate how much work I can get done with my time. Because of this, I need to make the deadline a little easier to reach than I would first expect. If I expect that I can get a project done in two weeks, I better give myself a deadline of three or four weeks to be more realistic. Some people work the opposite and always think a project will take longer than it really does. If you fit into that category, set the deadline for a shorter period of time than you might first expect.
5. Complete, Celebrate, Commence
These three Cs are the cycle for achieving goals with a deadline. The first C is to complete the project you are working on. Work really hard towards a goal with the focus on completing it. If you are like me, you likely have the tendency to have a number of project lying around that are started, perhaps even near completion and yet not finished. One place I notice this in my life is how many books I have partially read. Often I find myself part way through several books, but not completing any of them. To break this trend, focus on completing the project. You can set a new deadline for completing the project if you are nearly done well before the original deadline.
The second C is to celebrate. Once you have completed a major project or met a major goal you need to pause and celebrate. Find a way to celebrate that is a true reward. For me, a steak dinner at my favorite restaurant is a great reward for completing a major project. This has to be something you do rarely enough that it truly feels like a great celebration. Your celebrations may change from goal to goal depending on what feels like a reward to you in the moment. Bigger goals that took more time and effort to achieve should have a bigger celebration than small goals.
The final C is to commence. After you have celebrated, you need to commence progress towards your next goal; set a deadline and get going. Notice that this final C does not take place until after you have completed the previous goal and celebrated its achievement. If you start sooner, you’ll end up with too many projects to focus on.
Using deadlines that are firm, appropriate and have external pressure will help you make progress more rapidly towards your goal. Set deadlines for all of your major goals and then follow the cycle of the four Cs to reach those goals. You will quickly move onwards and upwards towards the success you desire.
The Success Professor – Danny Gamache
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