Although some people think that deadlines kill creativity and hamper productivity, they can really help you streamline your energies and focus on the work at hand, especially when you work as a freelancer and have multiple projects to handle.
If you don’t set deadlines for your individual projects you will soon lose track of time and will never be able to deliver the projects on time to your clients, creating a bad professional reputation in the process.
If you want to be taken seriously by your past, present, and future clients, you have to take your deadlines seriously and respect them; when you respect your deadlines it means you respect your client’s time and also your own time.
But following deadlines can sometimes prove to be a really difficult task and this happens more often when you work on your own and there is nobody to supervise you or nag you in case you delay your work.
Not having to go to office is both an advantage and a disadvantage because when you don’t have to go to office at a particular time every day you don’t have to start your work at a particular time every day. Similarly you can stop doing work whenever you feel like and it is very easy to get distracted when you work on your own; and it is not always entirely your own fault because the people around you think that your time is only valuable when you work in an office or a shop.
But that is a different topic; in this post we will try to explore some ways to set up realistic deadlines and then stick to those deadlines.
Here are a few handy things:
Define your working pattern
In order to create rational deadlines you need to understand how you work, how much time you take to accomplish particular tasks, and under what conditions you are most productive, and least productive. You won’t be able to make this out immediately and this task may take a few months to materialize but sooner or later you’ll have to make a beginning and the sooner you do, the better it will be. Once you have created a map of your working pattern you will be able to create the right deadlines for your individual projects. Of course as you gain more experience your working pattern will keep changing.
Develop a schedule and then stick to it
We are not able to meet deadlines mostly because we don’t follow a definite schedule. Working independently affords us with lots of flexibility. Although this flexibility can immensely improve the way we perform, sometimes, unknowingly, we end up working less just because we think that we have enough time and hence we can easily postpone work. So always set aside a particular time of your day when you do nothing but work. If you are not used to it in the beginning it will be very difficult and both your mind and body will resist but as you persist they will both get used to it.
For instance if you decide that you are going to do your professional work between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and then between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. you will be able to achieve more compared to when you work randomly at any time; in fact you end up working more and achieve less when you don’t have well defined schedule. Your family and friends too will get used to your timings and thus disturb you less during those hours. Once you start working within your working hours you’ll be surprised to discover how much extra time you have and how efficiently you can work.
Track your work
When you track your work you know exactly where you are at a particular instance and you can then increase or decrease (you should rarely decrease your speed though) your speed accordingly. Depending upon the status of your work you can also alter your methodology so that you can finish your work within your deadline or before the deadline. In case you observe that you are going to run late you can also seek outside help; remember that it is very important that you deliver the assignment to your client on time or before the time you have committed even if it means outsourcing certain components of your project.
There are many software tools available that can help you track your progress; such tools are often called “project management software”, but frankly you don’t need such elaborate tools unless you are running an organization consisting of multiple employees. If you work alone you can use something like Tadalist or Remember the milk, Google calendar of even the calendar feature of Microsoft Outlook. These tools help you create lists of jobs that you want to accomplish at a particular time interval. Again using such tools may seem like a drag or even waste of time in the beginning but once you get used to them you will tremendously improve your performance vis-à-vis your deadlines.
Of course you can use a simple notepad and a pen or pencil to achieve the same: it depends on how you prefer to work.
Don’t over commit
We mostly over commit when we don’t keep track of our present work and our schedule; we never intentionally take up work that we cannot do (unless we intend to cheat). If you maintain a proper calendar and always refer to it before committing to new projects; politely refuse if you cannot finish the assignments within the timeframe acceptable to the client. Refusing the work is far better than first accepting it and then not doing it or delaying it.
Even if you don’t charge for the extra time you spend on the project it delays your client’s plans and he or she may resent you or even penalize you for that. It is another matter if the delay occurs due to a sudden change in the specs of the project or if your client keeps changing his or her mind and at that time you should always keep a duly signed copy of the initial agreement at hand and show it to the client whenever some conflict manifests.
Take your entire family into confidence
When you work from home your working schedule depends a lot on how your family reacts to your need to focus on your work during particular hours of the day. If you are interrupted all the time by your spouse or by your kids then you can forget about meeting the deadline.
You can meet the deadline only if you can do your work uninterrupted and you should communicate this to your family repeatedly because they tend to forget it very quickly, and it is but natural because it is home for them and not an office. If possible move to a room that is not used frequently by your family members.
Keep your client well-informed
Keeping your client well-informed keeps misunderstandings at bay and at certain instances it also allows you to make your deadline flexible. More often than not your client is interested in the completion of his or her project and he or she is okay with a few delays and changes here and there. For this you constantly need to update your client regarding the status of the project.
There should be a mechanism in place where you can actually show your client how much work has been done so that he or she has an idea of how fast or slow the work is progressing and if you are not meeting the deadline then what is the reason behind it.
Deadlines, especially unrealistic deadlines, rack havoc with many a project, but they can be great performance-boosters if you manage your projects systematically and track individual deadlines diligently. As I mentioned above, it may seem like a wasteful exercise in the beginning but as your work increases a mechanism to track all the deadlines and meet the deadlines will prove to be indispensable once you realize how it helps you improve your performance and hence achieve more in limited time.