Want to Get Things Done Faster? Move Up Your Deadline
I go back and forth here at Double Fourteen: I write articles that call for us to dismantle and transform our toxic work culture, and the next day I write a post with a tip for accomplishing your to do list. As I’ve said before, I don’t think that simply implementing a bunch of hacks is going to fix the deep problems with our economic and social systems. In order to make life better, we need to build a new economic system from the ground up that reflects a society that values human life and happiness rather than productivity and profit.
However, I also know that we also have to get through the work days, and sometimes tips really do help. So, here’s a tip – perhaps my best one yet – for getting tasks done more quickly that you might otherwise expect.
Move up your deadline!
Way back when I was first starting to write my dissertation, back when I was spending hours writing every single day. A mentor told me that the best way not only to actually finish a chapter but to produce good writing was to have a deadline. For a writing project, which involves a lot of creativity and constant editing, this sounds counterintuitive. Why would having an urgent deadline make you produce better work?
It turns out that this was probably the single best piece of advice I got for writing my dissertation. Having a deadline switched my brain from lethargy to adrenaline-fueled creativity. Needing rather than wanting to complete a project made me think more expansively and forced me to quick wasting time on details that didn’t matter to the final product.
I’ve now applied this principle to my current remote work – but with a slight twist.
When I begin a task, I estimate about how long it will take me. Sometimes that is 10 minutes Sometimes it’s 2 hours. Sometimes I estimate multiple days. But instead of assigning my deadline based on that timeframe, I slightly advance the deadline.
If I think I need 10 minutes, I give myself 8. If I think I need 2 hours, I give myself an hour and 45 minutes. If I think it’s a two-day project, then I budget a day and a half.
Here’s why this technique is magic. I’d say that over half of the time I actually complete the task within this shortened time frame. The other times, when I don’t finish by my self-imposed advanced deadline? I don’t feel bad for taking “too long” to finish a project! I’ve simply taken the original amount of time I assumed the work would take.
I swear by this method. This system allows me to get work done quickly and make room for other things. It gives me a chance to experience tiny adrenaline rushes throughout the day, which I do sometimes need to make it through the work hours. If you sometimes struggle with procrastination or lack of focus, I can’t recommend this method enough.