Work may get stressful sometimes, but it’s pretty easy to keep your eyes on the prize when you have your boss and coworkers depending on you. But what about when you set deadlines for yourself? Whether it’s losing a few pounds by spring break, learning how to dance before your wedding, or organizing your filing cabinet before you get your tax refund back, learn to keep yourself on track. Here’s how:
Go public. It’s far more difficult to bail on your goals if you’ve announced them to other people. Especially if they are people that you’re close with, they’re going to check in and see how you’re doing—and you don’t want to let them down! Training for your first 10K? Drop that into conversation with your gym buddy. Chances are she won’t let you off the hook even when you want to slack off. The truth is that we’re all reluctant to look bad in front of other people. So just mentioning a project to someone holds you accountable; you don’t want to be embarrassed down the road when they ask about your grandiose plans.
Break it down. We’re all about ambition, but trying to tackle too many things at once can be daunting. So break your big deadline down into smaller checkpoints along the way. For example, let’s say you’ve set a goal to have your annual expenses organized by the end of the month. Instead of drowning in the contents of your filing cabinet, set a goal to finish one quarter (or three months) worth of expenses per week. Finish just that small chunk and then walk away. By the end of the month, those three months have become one year—and voila! You’re done.
Get in the habit. Unless you’re the kind of overachiever (cough cough) who regularly tackles big projects on their own, it’s likely that pursuing a particular deadline isn’t part of your daily routine. So make it one. Set aside the same time every day to work on your project, whether it’s half an hour before work or fifteen minutes on your lunch break. Don’t allow yourself to do other things during this time (grocery shopping, laundry, bills, etc. can wait!). This is a great exercise for two reasons: 1) your brain will become trained to work on your particular goal during this time, and thus you’ll be more efficient; and 2) you won’t have to spend the rest of the day wondering when you’re going to fit it in.
Give incentive. Tie your personal deadline to something bigger and guess what? It’s going to be a lot easier to work toward it. For example, if you’ve been meaning to finish redecorating your living room, plan a house party for the day after the deadline you’ve set. It’s a two-for-one: you’ll be incentivized to finish the job so that your friends don’t see your house in disarray, and you’ll have an occasion to show off your hard work! Most of us work well when there are consequences (like your friends judging your messy house) and rewards (like showing off your fabulous handiwork).
One thing at a time. Now that you’ve learned some approaches for tackling your deadlines, you may be tempted to load ‘em on. But think of yourself as a multitasker in training. Trying to meet big, overlapping deadlines will only leave you feeling frustrated. Instead, work through each project one at a time. If and when you do become more efficient, shorten the time it takes you to complete each project—but stay in the habit of tackling them one by one. You’ll be crushing those deadlines in no time!