Whether you’re a leader or a team member, unrealistic deadlines add an intensity of pressure that can be hard to handle. This pressure is bad for your health but the work overload it brings has been found to decrease productivity by 68%, making an already unrealistic timeline even worse. It feels like you’ve lost control of your work and your time.
We can’t always avoid unrealistic deadlines or project timelines which are unattainable. However, we can take some steps to reduce their impact on your health and wellbeing.
Before you do anything else…
Change the way you look at deadlines
Why not change the way you look at deadlines? Jason Fried of Basecamp sees
“an approaching deadline as an opportunity to get ready to be great.”
He believes it forces you to focus, trim the unnecessary elements and produce quality where it matters. It makes you become more efficient.
Ways to control the pressure of a deadline
There are three keys to easing the pressure of those deadlines: finding some sort of control over the situation, the task, and your health.
Key 1: The situation.
How can you find some control over the situation?
- Are you able to decline the task? Saying ‘no’ is always a better option than running yourself into the ground.
- Talk to your manager or client about their expectations. Tell them you can’t meet the deadline and ask for it to be more realistic. It’s always better to be completely honest about your capacity so there are no surprises for anyone down the line.
- Find out why the deadline exists. What pressures have created it? Is there a different way to approach the situation? What is the ‘why’ behind the project?
- Discover the most important elements of the task. Consider whether you could have those done by the deadline, with full completion happening later. This approach spreads the workload for you.
- Ask for help. Can you have more hands on deck?
- Look at the other work on your plate and ask for an extension of time so your deadlines aren’t competing for your attention.
Key 2: The task.
Planning is your best friend. Until you’ve mapped out your path, your brain can get stuck in panic mode and become distracted by things that aren’t relevant. It can increase your stress levels. Once you’ve developed a plan, your brain can focus on the steps and help you stay on track.
So, plan before you do anything else.
- Work out your priorities. Which elements are essential? Which tasks need to come before others?
- Tackle the hard stuff first. Not only will you get it out of the way and off your mind, but it will also make you feel like you’re getting somewhere fast. That’s great motivation to keep going.
- Break large tasks down into smaller chunks. They don’t look as daunting this way.
- Tick your completed tasks off as you go. Keep the list where the team can see it, so they know they are progressing.
- Mark milestones to be reached and celebrate them when you complete them.
- If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, don’t procrastinate. Just do something. Acting is a great way to reduce overwhelm.
- Provide regular updates to your manager (or client).
- Keep the communication lines open between your team members. It’s easy to overlook sharing important information as people concentrate on their work.
Key 3: Your health.
In a previous post, I shared some tips to help you stay balanced in the face of stress and prevent burnout. These tips apply to you and your team. Don’t let your work take over your life. Eat well, sleep well, don’t burn the midnight candle with work, and take time to enjoy your relationships. A breakdown in any of these areas could lead to your breakdown. No deadline is worth that.
You won’t always be able to meet the unrealistic deadlines imposed on you and that’s OK. If you’re the team leader, you have a responsibility to take care of your team and sometimes that means standing up for their needs despite looming deadlines. After all, if you or your people fall apart, the task will never be completed.