How to beat deadline stress
Some soloists thrive under pressure. Others find it threatening when client work is hanging over their head. If you panic over deadlines, try these tips to beat deadline stress.
1. Clarify, clarify, clarify
Ensure there is nothing ambiguous or unclear on what is to be delivered and when it is to be delivered. Also, are you clear on the rationale behind the deadline? Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions of your client at the start of the project, rather than finding out at the end.
For example, why is the deadline that date? Can it be moved? What is the exact scope of the project? Is there anything optional? Can the project/deliverable be split into phases or interim deliverables? What is the level of quality you’re looking for? Every project is malleable to some extent. Understanding the extent of this gives you a state of absolute clarity.
Those of us with enough battle scars know that some deadlines are decided purely arbitrarily by the client, which can cause undue deadline stress. Never forget – the mark of a true professional is knowing when the project is too big for the timeline. This knowledge is partly why they’re paying you in the first place.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Focus on the big ticket, high priority items first. If you don’t know what the highest priority items are, ask! Only when the high-level direction and deliverables have been set should you duck-dive into the detail. Focusing in on the detail too early will just cause you unnecessary deadline stress.
3. False deadlines
Regardless of how tight the deadline is, give yourself time to review your work by setting yourself an early or false deadline. While it sounds counterintuitive to force yourself to deliver earlier, a false deadline has a number of advantages.
"Regardless of how tight the deadline is, give yourself time to review your work by setting yourself an early or false deadline."
Firstly, when we are under pressure, we are more likely to overlook our own mistakes. It’s a good idea to allow time for someone else to review your deliverables well before it goes to the client. They can pick up on the minor typos, inconsistencies and design flaws.
Secondly, a false deadline is a great way to beat procrastination and disciplines you to be ruthless with your own time. To meet a well set false deadline, there is only enough time to do those things which are truly important.
Want more articles like this? Check out the time management tips section.
4. Focus on quality, not speed
When the pressure is on, we all have a tendency to try to do everything at once. You physically can’t do it, and frankly, it doesn’t work.
When a project becomes a hurricane of activity, try to remember the following saying from the US Navy Seals: “Fast is slow. Slow is fast.” Basically it means that if things are going fast and in many different directions, slow down. Concentrate on the immediate issues and deal with them in a methodical, calm and precise manner.
By taking the time to plan what we need to do and then to execute those steps in a focused manner; we are much more productive than trying to swat flies.
5. Take proactive measures
Where possible and financially viable, outsource, delegate and sub-contract non-core items to third parties. More strategically, though, ensure that your working agreements allow you the freedom to subcontract and outsource work in the first place. It’s times like these that you will appreciate having the clause in there!
To help, clearly document the processes of how you do what you do. When under extreme pressure, we need to conceptually separate what it is we need to do for the project, from how we are going to do it. Even if you’re flying solo, a well documented process gives you a repeatable framework to work within. This framework will allow you to focus on the creative side of your project that “wows” your clients, rather than the stress of remembering all the steps in your process.
For more on this, check out the business processes section of this site.
What techniques do you use when to beat deadline stress?