Slaying the Deadline Dragon

Slaying the Deadline Dragon

Linda Pliagas writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

It’s 4:00 a.m. The final project is due by 9:00. You boasted to your new client that two weeks was plenty of time to complete the assignment. Big mistake. Of course, let’s not forget you waited until the last minute to begin the work, and that the paperwork you needed to begin the project was misplaced for a few days. Now at the break of dawn, stress overtakes your body.

Work-at-home professionals have a number of obstacles to overcome: gaining the discipline to work despite distractions; not being mandated to organize their office; and balancing multiple projects and numerous deadlines. With so many responsibilities and distractions, added to the freedom of a boss-free office, it’s a wonder home-based independents get any work done at all.

To help you in your quest for professionalism, some top work-at-home experts in the areas of time management, organization and procrastination offer advice on ways to ensure timeliness.

Too Much or Too Soon?

Deadlines are almost never forgotten, but these stressful due dates are often neglected for many reasons. Elaine Bloom, a time management expert and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, says sometimes important activities are put off because people are simply trying to pack too many things into twenty-four hours.

She recommends homebound professionals set priorities on paper every single day. “I urge people to make a list of what needs to get done in their life, and break it down into different categories.” Bloom suggests that one create an “A-list” for the things that one must do, a B-list for things one should do, and a C-list for things that could be done if time permits. By writing down a schedule instead of just thinking about what needs to get done, one is taking the first step to creating an improved, organized workflow.

Deadlines are also often missed for two very simple reasons: either we don’t request enough time to complete the project or we miscalculate the time it takes to finish the work.

When I asked home-based public relations and marketing consultant Millie Szerman, author of A View from the Tub: An Inspiring and Practical Guide to Working from Home, what an independent should do if he is overwhelmed with deadlines, she responded, “Do you know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

She advises eWorkers to begin an assignment the minute they know about it. Even if it’s just a little dent, the important thing is that one has started the groundwork. Just knowing that can often make all the difference.

eWorkers should also give themselves ample time to complete a project. Sometimes, work-at-home professionals try to impress new clients by attempting to turn in projects sooner than it’s realistic to do so. The end result is a stressed out, overwhelmed worker trying to meet an impossible deadline and turning in a less-than-mediocre assignment.

To make sure that there is enough time to do the best job possible, set a comfortable deadline. Szerman suggests perhaps even doubling the estimated time needed. “If it will take one hour, ask for two, and so forth.”

The 80/20 Rule

Studies have shown that people use 20% of their possessions 80% of the time, Bloom says. This is a very important concept in terms of organizing a home office.

Bloom notes that being disorganized not only makes life more difficult, but it wastes valuable time that could be spent working on or pursuing other projects. She recommends using a calendar diligently. Bloom is amazed at how many busy people in high positions do not utilize a calendar or use it inefficiently. It is these same people who often forget important meetings, miss deadlines or accidentally double-book their time.

Tomorrow is Not Better than Today

Procrastination is an eWorker’s worst enemy. Some experts say procrastination is based on fear. Szerman says procrastination is a form of resistance, which sometimes stems from not being able to cope with pressure. She also says that people who procrastinate could be wrestling with control issues. For others, procrastination is safer than traveling down an unknown path. Nanci McGraw, founder of the International DO-ers Organization (I.D.O), says sometimes people prolong the start of a project because they don’t know how to do it or where to begin.

Whatever the reason for putting off work, procrastination can be lethal to an independent’s career. “[One] can lose respect, credibility and eventually business,” says McGraw. She adds, “Delaying some tasks often means it’ll cost us more time, effort or money when we finally do get to the job, or it can cost us the job.”

Again, that is why Szerman emphasizes the importance of beginning work as soon as one becomes aware of a new project. Even if it’s merely jotting down some notes, making one quick phone call or doing a few minutes of research, the immediate action will warm up your mental and physical engines making it easier to get the project started and increasing your motivation to work on the job–ensuring the project will be completed on time.

One final word of advice: think ahead. Bloom cautions that people sometimes don’t have a realistic time frame in mind. One needs to consider a project’s due date and schedule it accordingly.

So the next time a deadline looms, don’t become frazzled, tackle it head-on in a professional manner. As Szerman says, when working alone, “Wear the hat of your boss.” Instead of having to work until dawn the day a project is due, revel in the fact that the job was completed days ago.