We've all been there: the deadline is slowly approaching and you're stressing about whether or not you're going to get the work done, and anticipating what your boss will say if you don't. Sometimes things come up, and missing your deadline feels inevitable, but we want to help you prevent that from happening in the future.
We've outlined 12 different ways to help you better manage your time without cutting it close.
12 helpful time management tips
1. Prioritize all of your assignments.
Make a to-do list and number the items in order of importance — whether they are the most pressing tasks or the most time sensitive, make sure you know which ones you need to get started on and finish first, and which ones can wait. Don’t allow yourself to start a less important task until you complete the first thing on your list. That way, you're never falling behind on that report your boss has been asking for because you were working on something that doesn't have to be finished until next week.
2. Decide when to say no.
As hard as it may be to do sometimes, it is important to decide when to tell your boss you do not have the time to complete an assignment for her at the moment. It is better to decline a task by citing the many other duties taking up your time, than it is to take something on that you are not going to be able to complete in time. And if saying no is absolutely not an option, try to alter the deadline instead.
3. Set realistic deadlines.
Be honest with yourself and your manager about how much time you truly need to complete an assignment. Come prepared to explain why you may need more time than she was willing to give you, with specific examples of what will take a longer amount of time (i.e. if you need to call around for additional research, if you’ve been given a larger load of tasks than you are used to, etc.) You are a hard worker, and your boss knows that. You don't want to disappoint her, but you can only stretch yourself so thin. Explain your position and why you may need an extra 24 hours.
4. Do your best to prevent any and all distractions.
We get it — distractions happen, especially in an office setting. But you can be proactive about avoiding them. Block off your calendar so your coworkers and your boss know you're busy working on a time sensitive assignment. Put your phone on airplane mode so people outside of your office can’t bother you or block yourself from using social media until your work is done.
5. Do not be afraid to delegate when necessary.
This one may not apply to all positions, but, when possible, delegate certain tasks in order to save time and receive help with your project. While you cannot outsource every task, it can be helpful to outsource smaller ones that are necessary but do not require specific training. And, if you work for yourself, try outsourcing smaller tasks to a freelancer! Learn which projects to outsource, and give yourself a little break.
6. Give yourself a break when you need it.
No one can give their all at work 100 percent of the time, but when you feel overwhelmed, or are stressed and anxious about meeting a deadline, you might feel you have to. Don’t give in to this pressure you may be putting on yourself. By overworking, you are more likely to make mistakes and lose motivation. Give yourself a little break when you are starting to feel burnt out; go for a walk, meditate in your office, grab a smoothie or sit in the park. Whatever you need to boost yourself up — do it, then get back to work.
7. Block off specific times for specific tasks.
A great way to do this is by using a calendar! Create your own mini deadlines for each task. Decide how much time you need to finish a certain assignment (with no distractions!) and hold yourself accountable in order to do so. This will not only help you plan out the order of your day, but it will also help you stay on track to meet that deadline.
8. Ask for help when you need it.
No one has all the answers, and sometimes you need help from others in order to get things done. If you are struggling to complete an assignment because you are stuck on one task or maybe you aren’t sure how to even start, do not be afraid to ask your manager for guidance or even assistance. Do not let a fear of failure or disappointment keep you from meeting your deadline.
9. Do what you need in order to get motivated.
We all have that one self care habit we utilize when we are feeling a little low in the motivation department. Maybe you go for a run, watch a TED talk, listen to an inspirational podcast, go to church or have another way of pumping yourself up. Whatever works for you, do it! Be your own cheerleader and get yourself prepared and excited to finish your work.
10. Clear your desk.
This may seem simple, but having a clean, tidy, organized desk can ease your anxiety about beginning a task. You will already feel more in control when you take control of your surroundings, even if it is just your desk.
11. Set reminders for your assignments.
And for different parts of your assignments! Reminders will help keep you on track and will notify you if you are falling behind. Reminders are also perfect for those time blocks you have carved out for each item on your to-do list. They can alert you that you have 10 minutes left on your highest priority assignment before you move on to the next task at hand.
12. Complete similar tasks at the same time.
Kill two birds with one stone. While you still must keep time sensitivity and deadlines in mind, it is convenient to knock out two similar tasks at the same time. Your mind will already be focused on this type of assignment, making it easier to complete a similar one. And you won’t be going back and forth between different notes or topics on your to-do list, which can be confusing, especially after a long work day.
Benefits of setting and meeting deadlines
Meeting a deadline displays professionalism since you're trying your best to avoid distractions and make the most of your time in the office. It's also a huge plus for your manager, who witnesses you putting your full effort into the assignment she gave you. Meeting a deadline is like being on time for a meeting: it makes you look favorable in the eyes of the employer, and it shows them you are working hard to make a good impression at the company.
Also, this is your career. Your work is important and influential, and deadlines are set for a reason: your late work could create a domino effect of missed deadlines in the office, as your task could be a prerequisite for a colleague’s task. Maybe the presentation is due two days after the deadline your manager gave you, but she has work to add on to yours in order for it to be complete.
You missed a deadline. Now what?
Be honest. Explain yourself and offer a solution (i.e. I will work tonight in order to get it to you in the next 24 hours). If you are missing a deadline due to a death in the family, an illness or another unfortunate and unexpected life event, you should tell your manager as soon as it occurs and you know it will affect the day and time in which you turn in your work. And if you are missing a deadline because a project is taking you longer than you expected, you should be equally as honest. Reach out when you know you'll miss your deadline.
Make sure it does not happen all the time. Everyone misses a deadline every once in a while (we’re all human), and your manager will hopefully understand and respect that. But you cannot make it a habit. Missing deadlines looks poorly on the employee. And while, yes, you are human, you don’t want to be viewed as unprofessional.