The science of meeting deadlines

People feel overwhelmed when the original goal seems too big

In Summary

• In a world full of distractions, remaining focused requires significant mental strength

A man holds his head in regret
A man holds his head in regret

We often are dealing with several deadlines at any given moment, ranging from seemingly trivial ones to life-changing deadlines. Despite the presence of deadlines throughout our lives, why do we have a hard time accomplishing things on time?

Professional deadlines assume the greatest urgency because of the potential consequences on our sources of living. Obviously, repeatedly failing to achieve your bosses' deadlines is bad for your career. In business, a reputation for not meeting customer deadlines will turn away new clients.

Then there are the personal deadlines for which there's no one breathing down our necks to accomplish. Lots of people have not kept their self-imposed deadlines for getting an academic qualification, starting a business, building a house or some other project. Continuously failing to meet personal deadlines means postponing one's dreams.

James Ngolo, an events organiser, has found a useful way of staying on track. He makes checklists. "An event is something for which the deadline is fixed. Asking clients to postpone an event because you aren't ready is an unforgivable failure," Ngolo says.

After setting a date for the event, Ngolo and his colleagues break down everything into smaller tasks, each with its own deadline. The tasks include sending out invitations, getting quotations from potential venues, booking a venue, designing the event's programme of activities, getting presenters, organising the catering and making travel arrangements.

"With that system, we can be organising several events simultaneously and still keep track of what's going on with each," Ngolo says.

Annie Lin, a life coach, says one of the main reasons people fail to achieve their goals is because they feel overwhelmed when the original goal seems too big. In a step-by-step guide on Wikihow, Annie explains how breaking a goal into smaller, manageable parts makes it easier to achieve. "Your goal that seemed so big and daunting becomes something that can be accomplished over time in several steps," she wrote.

Ngolo and Annie's views are backed up by research showing the link between success and preparing a written plan of action. Known as the Zeigarnik Effect, planning activities through “to-do” lists reduces stress by freeing one's mind from worrying about unfinished tasks. It has been established that successful people create plans for what they must accomplish.

One more reason why both employees and business people fail to meet deadlines is because they wanted to make a good impression by promising a quick turnaround. For deadlines to be accomplished on time, they have to be realistic from the start.

Once you have broken down the overall goal into tasks, estimate (preferably with colleagues) how much time is needed to complete each task. You can use your experience, that of your colleagues or a bit of research to determine a realistic schedule.

In a world full of distractions, remaining focused requires significant mental strength. Social media, television, emails and even casual banter can hinder you from your objectives. Set aside time to focus on your tasks but also allocate time for emails, social media and chatting with other people. If an email does not require an urgent response, you can deal with it later.

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