By Barbara Mitchell
Q: I struggle with meeting deadlines, and I know it's having an impact on my productivity. How can I manage my time better?
A: Believe me, I understand your pain. I have to really work hard to meet deadlines, so I've come up with some things that work for me and could work for you.
Here are my tips for staying on track:
- Divide big projects into small bites. Some projects are so overwhelming when you think of them in totality, but if you divide them into smaller, digestible pieces, it's easier to get started. This technique is sometimes called the "salami" method of project management—to serve a salami, you slice it into smaller pieces, and that's how you can tackle a large project without it becoming unmanageable.
- Set milestones for completing each part of your task before moving to the next step. Reward yourself if you meet a milestone as an extra incentive to keep moving.
- Know when you do your best work. Some of us think better in the morning, while others don't come alive until the sun goes down. Understand when you're at your peak and schedule your more difficult projects for that part of the day.
- Take frequent breaks to clear your head. Go for a quick walk, or you may need a caffeine boost to give you some energy.
Divide projects into smaller, digestible pieces so it's easier to get started.
- Focus on one thing at a time. You may need to turn off your phone so that you're not distracted by incoming texts and emails. As hard as this may be in our connected world, focusing on the project at hand may help you stay on track and meet your deadline.
- Use a timer to stay on track. For example, I set the timer on my phone for an hour to focus intently on the work at hand. I don't let myself stop during that time to check email or messages, and I find I can get more done in that hour than I ever imagined.
- Ask for help. Let your coworkers know you're on a deadline and ask if they would be available for a certain amount of time to help if needed. Tell them you'll return the favor.
Of all the tips above, the one that works best for me is to set milestones and hold myself accountable to them. If I meet a milestone, I may allow myself to go to lunch with a coworker or leave the office a little early—just something that motivates me to work toward the goal of getting the project in on time. I know you'll find your own rewards that work best for you.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]