Nothing Focuses the Mind Like a Deadline

December 12, 2011

Meeting DeadlinesFocus is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. This is mostly because of the tremendous number of distractions we face everyday. Small business owners become unfocused because of the myriad tasks, crises or opportunities that pop up everyday. Throw in a challenging economic climate and the focus challenge gets even worst. To combat this, you can employ one of the most powerful focusing methods I know – deadlines.

The Art of Setting Deadlines

Deadlines can be a scary thing. The original definition stems from a line around a prison which if crossed, would result in getting shot. Thankfully, deadlines today are not about life and death but rather about accomplishments on a timeline. Deadlines should be used to set a brisk pace of accomplishment but not a panicked pace of chaos. All deadlines should be rooted in solid business judgement and not thrown out just to have one.

Deadlines Are Not Goals

Every business has a set of goals and metrics it needs to hit. These goals are usually time sensitive and probably revolve around month, quarter and year end. Those dates are natural deadlines that you can use as both short term and long term yardsticks on your performance. The difference between setting a goal and a deadline  stems from the desire to achieve (goal) and having to achieve (deadline). Deadlines don’t take the place of goals – rather, they help you achieve your goals by getting tasks completed that are within your control. For example, lets say you want to increase your sales by 20% in 3 months. That’s clearly a goal since achieving that is somewhat out of your control. What’s in your control is the plan to increase those sales. Clearly, in order to increase sales, you need a plan and that plan should include deadlines.

Practical Deadline Setting

In order for a task to have a deadline, it must be achievable, given the resources within your control. If it’s not, then it’s just a goal. It’s important to distinguish between the two because the whole point of a deadline is that it needs to be completed by a certain date. To help you set deadlines and achieve them, consider the 4 step process listed below:

Step 1: Pick What’s Under Your Control

What we can directly control are prime candidates for deadlines. This is important because when you set a deadline, you need to have all of the tools and resources available to achieve it or it’s just a goal. Keep this in mind when you set deadlines – otherwise you will just get frustrated.

Step 2: Identify Tasks That Help Your Goals

A great way to set deadlines is to tie them to goals. As our example above showed, there are things that must be done in order to achieve a goal. From filing your taxes to sending out that proposal, these tasks are critical to complete quickly s they are appropriate for setting deadlines.

Step 3: Dedicate Time Each Day:

Once you set a deadline, you must be dedicated to getting it done. That means you have to work on it each and everyday. This is the beautiful thing about a task with a deadline – it should be only a matter of investing the time to complete it.

Step 4: Finish It No Matter What

A deadline means that whatever you are working on is time sensitive and must be completed by the deadline date. It’s important to adhere to this no matter what – even if it means staying up all night. Think about it this way, once your deadline task is finished, you can move on to other things.

Deadlines Will Help You Succeed

Part of the beauty of deadlines is that they force us to finish tasks. This may seem trivial but most small business people (in fact, most people) tend to put off tasks because they are too busy or don’t have enough time. By setting deadlines, these “I’ll get around to it” tasks get completed. Why this is important is that the success of completion builds on itself. Pretty soon, your goals are starting to get achieved because you are taking control of what you can accomplish. This, in turn, gives you more time to focus on your goals. Go ahead, give it a try. Set some deadlines and watch what happens.

About the Author: Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training, entrepreneur by nature and leader by endurance. His new site, EnduranceLeader.com combines two of his passions – leadership and endurance athletics. The main premise behind Endurance Leader is that by enduring through hardships and struggle, we can conquer anything. Jarie also used to be a SCORE counselor, where he helped over 200 entrepreneurs stay focused on what’s important. You can follow him on Twitter via @EnduranceLeader

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