How to meet deadlines (Plus tips on being organised)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Deadlines are an important part of many people's working lives, yet they're also a source of stress for many people in the working environment. Techniques to manage workloads can help people meet deadlines and contribute to the continued smooth running of their company. Deadline management is also an important part of self-discipline and personal organisation and is something employers regularly test during job interviews. In this article, we outline how to meet deadlines and explain some key steps to take to help with time management.

How to meet deadlines

There are many reasons that it's important to learn how to meet deadlines. It demonstrates your professionalism and integrity and can show that you're a trusted team member who's reliable and diligent. Despite this, it can be difficult to manage a short-term deadline when you also have ongoing work commitments. There are several steps you can take to ensure you complete a piece of work with a deadline on time. Here are five techniques to use to help you meet deadlines:

1. Make sure you understand what the task requires

To plan your workload effectively and meet deadlines, it's important to know exactly what your responsibilities are. If you have a task set by a manager, take the time to review with them what they expect you to do and exactly when they need it. It may also be a good idea to understand whether there are any intermediate deadlines they wish to set.

For example, if they ask you to prepare a document for a meeting, ask if they also want to review the document. This might mean setting yourself an earlier deadline to allow time for them to review your work. Once your manager has reviewed your work, you can then make any changes based on their feedback.

2. Ensure you have the correct resources

To meet a deadline, you may need certain resources. That could be people, equipment, materials or other training or support. Similarly, you need the personal capability or access to capable colleagues who can assist and agreements from the relevant management chains that these resources are available for allocation to your project. Arranging this as early as possible sets you on the best possible path to effectively meet your deadline.

Related: What is a project baseline? (Plus definition and tips)

3. Make your plan

If you're working to a set deadline from a higher authority, it's important to understand how flexible this is. Some deadlines may be flexible, others might be entirely fixed. For example, preparing a presentation for a conference. The dates of the conference won't change and missing a deadline means there simply won't be a presentation ready. For projects like these, consider setting yourself intermediate deadlines. These intermediate deadlines could be things like having a draft ready by a certain date or having graphics ready a week before the final deadline.

It's often a good idea to write down your plan in a way that lays it out clearly and allows you to track your progress. Having something in writing is also important if other people are accountable for aspects of the work. A verbal agreement might be enough to secure time and resources for a very small task but if you're managing others to oversee work that forms a significant part of the project, put a clear written plan in place that everyone has access to and can refer to if necessary.

Related: Planning skills: definition and examples

4. Build in contingency time

Even the best-laid plans don't always work as hoped. Sometimes a situation outside of your control can impact your plans. For example, a supplier might let you down by failing to deliver materials. Similarly, someone in your team unexpectedly falling ill and being unable to work might delay your plans or mean you lack a particular necessary skill set to complete the work. This means that you might miss a deadline, or you could find alternative methods to cope.

This means that your plan could include elements of contingency planning. This means building in extra time where possible to allow for delays or things taking longer than you previously thought. Your ability to build in contingency times may vary depending on who you are answerable to and how urgent the project is. If you can set a realistic timeline for your project, with appropriate contingency time, this can help you effectively meet deadlines.

Related: 5 time management interview questions (With examples)

5. Crisis management if you can't meet a deadline

It's important to record your progress toward a deadline. This allows you a better chance to notice if you're not on track to meet the deadline you're working toward achieving. The earlier you notice this, the better chance you have of taking remedial action to fix the issues that are preventing you from succeeding.

This could be the realisation that you're simply unable to dedicate enough time to the project. In this case, you may want to speak to senior management about rebalancing your workload. Alternatively, if you get partway through the project and realise you're not on track to meet the deadline, you may want to ask for additional support and resources. Doing this with plenty of notice reduces the chance that you miss the deadline, as it can allow you the time to manage the situation promptly.

Related: What is a crisis management plan? (with example)

Personal organisation and deadlines

In addition to making a plan and managing your resources, there are certain elements of personal organisation and self-discipline that can be helpful in time management, including:

Learn to say no

One reason people fail to meet deadlines is that they take on too much work or don't feel confident speaking out when a senior manager sets unrealistic deadlines. This means that understanding your capacity and being realistic about how much additional work you can take on if someone approaches you with an additional workload is important. Be aware of how much work you can realistically finish in the given time and don't be afraid to turn down additional tasks if they could overwhelm you or prevent you from meeting your current deadlines.

Related: The importance of good communication in organisation

Understand your behaviours

Some people develop unhelpful workplace habits that make it difficult to meet deadlines or cause them to face periods of extreme pressure when working to meet a tight deadline. The most common of these is procrastination, which is the habit of putting off work until the last possible moment. For some people, this is because they feel they thrive under pressure. Despite this, it can also have links to low self-confidence or uncertainty about the finer details of tasks.

If you tend to procrastinate, think about steps you can take to address this. This could include breaking down a large task into a large number of small steps. This way, you can aim to accomplish a few small items each day in the run-up to small deadlines before your ultimate deadline.

Related: What is time management? (Importance and how to improve it)

Don't become overwhelmed in the planning stage

Planning is important, and it's easy to fail if you haven't planned appropriately. Despite this, it can also be tempting to create detailed and elaborate plans at the expense of time spent doing the necessary work. To ensure you meet the deadlines, consider how best to balance the act of planning and time spent completing the tasks.

If you struggle with this, ask a colleague or manager working on the project with you to have regular catch-up meetings. This can help keep you accountable for your actions and progress. This accountability can be a motivating factor if you're struggling to find the mental energy to stop planning and start working on something with a time-critical deadline.

Related: What does being overworked mean and how to mitigate it?

Identify your motivations

Meeting a deadline in itself isn't necessarily a motivating factor. Instead, you could think about what motivates you. This might be receiving praise from management, having opportunities to demonstrate successful project work in an upcoming promotion interview or managing your time effectively to free you up to do other tasks you enjoy more. When you're working hard toward a tight timeline, thinking about how it ties into the factors that motivate you can help you continue to feel energised and enthusiastic about a project with an upcoming deadline.

Related: Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

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