Working Smarter

6 Ways to Prevent Deadline Stress

Posted by Joe Robinson

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If you’re wondering which deodorant works best, submit each to the time pressure test. Deadlines are a splendid way to do this, since they are world-class triggers of the perspiration equipment. As the due date arrives, the tension mounts and deadline panic rises. How am I going to get it all done? What if I don’t make it? Will I be fired?

The more unrealistic the deadline is, the more industrial-strength deodorant you need—and the more stress management, since deadlines are very good at simulating emergencies that set off the fight-or-flight behavior of the stress response and the worst-case ruminating known as “awfulizing.” Down to the word itself, deadlines feel like life-or-death, but you can survive them and make adjustments to how you deal with them that can turn these nags into reminders, instead of execution dates.

LESS FRENZY, BETTER OUTCOMES

There’s nothing inherently deadly about deadlines. They are a simple tool to insure that tasks get done on time and we don’t have to chase others indefinitely to move projects along. We have to have them, but we don’t have to be driven crazy by them. As with most things in a crazy-busy workplace, we can make adjustments that allow us to manage deadlines, instead of have them manage us.

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Sometimes market developments require extreme turnaround times, but most of the time better planning, more awareness of what’s on people’s plates, and less optimistic time estimation can help keep deadlines doable. Lack of information drives deadline problems. Managers don’t know everything staff is working on, and employees don’t have task time estimates to make an informed projection on turnaround time.

Deadlines are an ad hoc item without much of a system to corral them. The tendency is to pull dates out of the air or decide on the spur-of-the-moment without careful consideration of doability. Granted, there’s not always much recourse with a deadline that comes from on high, but a more systematic approach to the process can produce better outcomes and less racing pulse rates. Here are a few steps to prevent deadline dread and make the process work better.

AVOID DEADLINE PANIC

1. Do time estimates of all key tasks. The more you know exactly how long it takes to do each of the components that make up tasks and assignments, the more accurate time estimates will be, and you’ll know whether you can meet a due date or how much extra time you might need. Break down tasks and projects into their constituent parts and time them. How much time is needed to complete each task practice, from product development, to meeting preparation, customer training, monthly reports, or meetings? Add those together with estimates for other projects you might have, and you will be able to determine how realistic a deadline might be and how long it will take to accomplish it.

2. Resist over-optimism. Humans are lousy predictors of the future, particularly of personal ability to get done what we think we can in a set period of time. Type A’s, in particular, tend to be overly optimistic in what they think they can accomplish, believing they can will their way to a best-case due date. We also have to think of a worst-case estimate and what can go wrong. If you take the time to estimate what it takes to complete all tasks on your watch, you can’t go down the Shazzam road to the genie school of instant materializations. Always build in an extra 20% of time for scope creep, as parts move and Murphy’s Law intervenes.

3. Deadline-setters: Plan more. Viability all starts with the deadline-setter. Have you allowed enough time for the job to be done well, or will it take rushing and crisis mentality to complete the task? The first is much more preferable since it leads to quality outcomes and avoids mistakes and conflict, but that requires thinking ahead and better planning to allot adequate time. Over-optimism also strikes at this stage of the process, with the belief that others can get it done at an appointed time because it has to be done. Sound out colleagues and other members of the team on the feasibility of the request before announcing due dates. It’s better to over-deliver with a great project than over-promise a raggedy or late one.

4. Assess deadline feasibility. One of the things I hear often from managers in my productivity trainings is that team members tend to say “Yes” to deadlines automatically without examining whether there is enough time or resources to complete the request, boxing themselves in to a date tough to pull off. If you take on more than you can do well, you are not doing anyone a favor. Unless the time estimate is doable, the deadline-setter is in trouble as well as you, so make the time work for both of you with as accurate an estimate as possible. Build in a pause to assess the deadline for its viability and say you’ll get back with an answer after checking resources and schedules.

5. Negotiate a more realistic due date. If the deadline isn’t feasible, propose or negotiate an alternate date, if that is possible. Managers are more open to making due dates work than is thought, especially when mitigating facts are brought to their attention that they are not aware of. Demonstrate why the deadline could be adjusted to insure a better outcome. Catching unrealistic deadlines on the front end is one of the best ways to prevent heartburn, mistakes, and missed deadlines later.

6. Create more informed timing expectations. Leaders and sales managers may have an idea of how long it takes to get something done that is at odds with the reality on the ground. Establish timing expectations through communication that insures that everyone has a clear idea of how much time is needed for each step of the process or project. 

Deadlines tend to fall through the management cracks, yet they play a huge role in daily operations and stress loads that drive crisis mentality, rushing, errors, conflicts, poor decisions, and health problems that undercut productivity. Every team and organization needs to make the time to create a deadline process that puts the emphasis on the best outcomes, not just rote speed. A little inspiration can save a lot of perspiration.

Tags: stress tips, overwhelm, workplace productivity, stress coaching, crazy busy, time management and planning, stress, work life balance programs, stress management, work stress, deadlines, managing deadlines, deadlines and stress

8 Stops to Work-Life Balance in 2015

Posted by Joe Robinson

Woman celebrating

The first couple of weeks of the new year are rare, indeed. They are one of the few times it is permissible to actually pause from head-down, full-blast mode, to reflect, ponder the upcoming year, even smell a rose or two.

Pausing is not something most of us are very good at. We are raised to keep on going to the last drop of caffeine. The premium is on action, and non-action appears to have no payoffs. Yet the key to work-life balance, productivity, stress management, and a quality life in 2015 or any year is in the space between the action, the moments when we take time to consider what’s working, what’s not, what needs to change, why, and how we get there. 

THINK-TIME

Without a pause, we can’t chart a better path forward. So before resolutions, before intentions, we need to stop so we can plan where we're going. Without a step-back to plan it’s easy to keep doing the same-old, same-old and default to the mechanical momentum of busyness. Planning, from prioritizing work tasks to putting life on the calendar, is the essential self-management tool. It figures out what you want and offers a path to make it happen.

So let’s make 2015 a year in which we are going to take the time to make the time to plan, whether it’s 10 minutes at the start of the day to get priorities together, time to discover what tasks need to be adjusted for more effective work, time to choose a new hobby to recharge during the week, or time to figure out what you’re going to do on your vacation this year and when you’re going to take it.

 

Europeans use the month of January to sit down with coworkers and managers and figure out when people want to take their vacations, so that holidays can be built into the workflow and operations of the company for the year. Planning puts things you value on the calendar. 

STRATEGIC PAUSING

Taking strategic pauses to map out our days and life highlights gets shoved aside usually because of the grip of time urgency and overwhelm that afflict most of us these days. Time urgency is a fixation with the passage of time. It makes you think every minute is an emergency and that each moment must be booked to the gills, or you’re a slacker.

The result is a cheek-flapping ride through the blur of busyness. We can’t stop for a second, or it’s apocalypse now. “Did you get that email I sent you three minutes ago?” The vise grip of busyness keeps you from making the extra call to a colleague, doing the research to have accurate turn-around times, or get exercise or life in for stress relief. “There’s no time!”

But studies show we do have time. It’s just not organized. Let’s take a look at some pauses we can use to direct a more thoughtful, effective, healthy year ahead for both work and life.

1. Big Picture Pause. Set aside a chunk of time, say, 30 minutes this week and then once a month, to think about where you’re going at work and life this year and why you’re going there. What are your work goals? Life priorities? What’s missing from the picture? What do you need to change? How can you do that?

2. Work Effectiveness Pause. Review tasks and identify ones that are frequent bottlenecks and time-wasters. How could they be adjusted for less stress and more effectiveness?

3. Priorities Pause. Set aside 10 minutes at the end of the workday or at the beginning to map out the top five tasks on your list for today or tomorrow.

4. Balance Pause. Each Friday, take a few minutes to assess the state of your work-life balance. Are you out of whack? What needs to happen to have a better work-life fit?

5. Recharge Pauses. Fatigued brains look like ones that are sound asleep. Pause when the pressure peaks, you’re stuck, concentration fades, the daydreaming begins. Take a walk, listen to music, or plan your weekend to build up energy and cognitive resources again.

6. Free Time Pause. Take time to put together a free-time log for a week of all your time outside work. Where are the time sinks? Where are the free-time slots you could schedule a new hobby or activity? What would you like to do? Salsa dancing? Cycling?

7. Vacation Pause. Figure out at the beginning of the year where you want to go on vacation and when you want to go. This makes it easier for coworkers and managers and locks them and you into making the holiday happen at the most opportune time, with plenty of notice to make workflow adjustments.

8. Life List Pause.  Take some time to think about what you’d like to do on this planet for the experience of it. What’s on your Life List? Sail the South Seas? Learn guitar? Keep a rotating list of five experiences and start jotting down steps to make them happen.

We are led to believe that nonstop commotion is the only road to success, but it’s informed action that makes work effective and life worthwhile. Satisfying work and a well-lived life are the result of thinking, assessing, and having the attention to create a better pathway forward, something no one else can do for us. What you want doesn't happen on its own. You have to make it happen.

Let’s use this opening of the dawn of the new year to pause frequently in 2015 and put the most underrated tool of work-life balance into action.

 

Tags: work life balance, time urgency, work life balance programs, 2015 resolutions, work effectiveness, time management and planning, stress and prioritizing, well-lived life, work-life coaching

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