Deadlines are sometimes associated with stress. However, when used effectively, they can bring several benefits.

Whether personal or professional, life is full of deadlines – so, learning how to set and stick to them can help us to stay on track and reach our goals.

With that said, we’ll explore the potential benefits of using deadlines, and offer tips on how to stick to them.

What are the potential benefits of setting deadlines?

What are the potential benefits of setting deadlines

Deadlines can help you prioritise tasks

If you often have a long to-do list, setting deadlines can help you to prioritise tasks and make more effective use of your time.

This often involves listing out things you need to do, ordering them in terms of priority, and setting deadlines for each accordingly.

Setting deadlines can improve focus

Often, having clear deadlines in life can help to improve your focus and productivity, because it keeps you accountable.’

In this study, setting realistic deadlines was found to increase performance and reduce procrastination.

Setting deadlines can boost motivation

Being clear on how long you have to complete a task can make you feel more motivated to get it done in time.

The logic of setting deadlines is founded in an idea known as Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law suggests that work output adapts to fill the amount of time provided.This helps to explain why, if you’ve ever been set a task without a deadline, you might have experienced a lack of incentive to get it done – perhaps even leaving it until the last moment.

Setting deadlines can increase creativity

If you’ve ever been faced with a strict deadline, you might have found yourself able to come up with creative solutions to complete the task.

Generally speaking, people are more likely to be creative when a situation forces them to be. As a result, setting deadlines can be useful for helping people realise their full creative potential.

Deadlines can help you keep your word

Setting deadlines can give you a clearer perspective on your time and, therefore, determine what tasks and activities you do and don’t have time for.

In turn, this can be useful for helping you avoid taking on too much.

Setting deadlines can be useful for overcoming perfectionist traits

Without clear deadlines, it can be tempting to spend more time than necessary on tasks – particularly if you’re someone with perfectionist traits.

While aiming high is a fantastic quality to have, over-analysing can lead to unnecessary stress and use of time.

Setting deadlines can be effective for overcoming this by helping to strike a healthy balance between hard work and potential burnout.

Setting deadlines can improve confidence

Considering that having deadlines to meet increases your chances of completing a task on time, it makes sense that using them can be an effective way to boost confidence.

Often, this becomes increasingly true when people get into a consistent habit of setting and meeting deadlines.

5 tips for setting and meeting deadlines

5 tips for setting and meeting deadlines

Now we know some of the potential benefits of setting deadlines, what are some of the most effective ways to introduce them into your personal and professional life?

We’ll cover some ideas below…

1. Break larger projects down into smaller tasks

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed when faced with a large project. You may wonder where to start or feel daunted at the amount of work ahead of you.

In these cases, it can be helpful to break larger projects down into smaller, more manageable tasks – each with its own specific deadline. As Henry Ford once said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”

Not only can this make things seem more manageable, but research has also found that this approach can make people feel as though they’ve achieved more and boost motivation.

2. Make sure deadlines are realistic

It’s neither helpful nor productive to set deadlines that aren’t achievable. So, one of the main questions to ask yourself when setting a deadline is whether or not it’s realistic.

For example, setting yourself a deadline to spring clean your entire house by the end of the week when you already have a full calendar isn’t realistic, and unlikely to end well.

Similarly, setting yourself too many deadlines can sometimes be counterintuitive. Avoiding this links back to the ability to prioritise goals and provide realistic timeframes to complete them.

3. Don't be afraid to fail

On the other hand, while it’s important to set realistic deadlines, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim high for fear of failure.

We all fail sometimes, and that’s okay (even good at times!) – as we’re only human after all. However, research shows that the human mind tends to view decisions as permanent, particularly if they carry a lot of weight. Though most outcomes are temporary, and reminding yourself of this can help to take some pressure off.

For further reading, you might find our articles; 10 ways to be more decisive and People-pleasing – what it is, why we do it, and how to balance it with your own needs, useful.

4. Work on using your time effectively

Work on using your time effectively

Setting a deadline date is the first step – but meeting it requires a certain amount of planning and time management.

Time management looks different for everyone but many people find time-blocking a useful method to use. Time-blocking involves setting aside time to complete a specific task. This could be anything from work projects and exercise to meal times; some people even find it useful to block out ‘me time’ in their schedule to avoid burnout.

Time-blocking events as ‘appointments’ in your calendar can also help to keep you accountable.

In an interview with Forbes, entrepreneur Abby Lawson said, “I plan pretty much every minute of the day. It rarely goes exactly how I have it planned, but it gives me deadlines during the day that I have to meet. It keeps me on task and a lot less likely to be distracted by something else.”

For more tips on time management, why not have a read of our 9 ways to work smarter, not harder?

5. Consider using tools like SMART goals to create deadlines

If you struggle to set clear and effective deadlines, goal-setting acronyms such as SMART and WOOP can be useful.

These are designed to help people set clear, achievable deadlines with realistic time frames. Often, larger projects will be broken down into short-, medium-, and long-term goals.

SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based, is one of the most popular goal-setting tools..

The basic guidelines of using SMART goals are…

  • Specific – goals should be clear, with a set outcome
  • Measurable – how will you track the progress of your goal?
  • Achievable – goals need to be realistic
  • Relevant – goals should be aligned with your overall, long-term mission
  • Time based – goals should have a clear deadline

Sometimes, just one, or a smaller combination of these points can be enough to help guide you in creating deadlines. With bigger projects, it can also be helpful to break these into various smaller SMART goals. Check out this ultimate guide to SMART goals from Forbes to find out more.

Another goal-setting tool is WOOP, which stands for wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan.

The WOOP guidelines are…

  • Wish – Think of a goal that is important, challenging, and achievable for you
  • Outcome – Visualise the outcome by imagining how you’d feel if you achieved your goal
  • Obstacle – Consider what are the main obstacles that may prevent you from achieving your wish
  • Plan – With this information, plan how you can overcome these obstacles

To find out more, check out LinkedIn’s article; How can you use the WOOP method to set and achieve your goals?

Final thoughts...

Having deadlines can sometimes feel negative, and even stressful. But, as we’ve seen in this article, learning how to set effective deadlines can benefit both our personal and professional lives – from increased focus and productivity to better time management. So,why not get into the habit of setting deadlines today?

For further reading, head over to the healthy mind section of our website. Here, you’ll find information on everything from self-development to overcoming stress and anxiety.

Do you struggle with making and keeping deadlines? Do you have any suggestions as to how to make and stick to deadlines? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.