Deadlines kinda suck, don’t they? (There’s a reason they aren’t called “alivelines”.) They can bring a lot of stress to your work and cause you to doubt yourself, but the good news is—they don’t have to be scary.
After blogging for a couple of years, I’ve grown accustomed to working with deadlines. Every week, I know I’ve got to write two articles; it’s just the way things are. And it’s not always easy. So today I want to share some productivity hacks I’ve learned to help you meet your next deadline.
Hack #1: Understand inspiration
Inspiration owes you nothing. I just want to say that up front, because it’s important to understand the nature of inspiration before you even think about getting to work. Last week, I talked about the secret of outstanding productivity, and that’s it.
You’ve got to accept the fact that inspiration isn’t some lost puppy that wanders up to you, begging to be adopted. It’s more like a wild unicorn tearing away in the opposite direction. You’ve got to chase it down.
Hack #2: Get organized
It’s hard to meet deadlines when you aren’t sure what you need to do, so get organized. Make a list of the things you need to accomplish and keep it in front of you. Clean your desk. Disorganization kills productivity and fosters procrastination.
Getting organized not only prepares you physically, but mentally as well. It allows you to declutter your mind, freeing it to focus on the tasks at hand.
Hack #3: Map out your goals
Having a plan can save you a lot of stress when you’re in the middle of pushing for a deadline. Whether it’s the outline for a novel or bullet points for a speech, you need a road map.
Set mile-markers for yourself along the way. When I work on a book, I like to do this in Google Calendar by setting word count goals each day. Your goals don’t have to big huge. In fact, small goals can be better, as they give you something to do right now instead of “sometime in the future”. But, regardless of your method, you need to set goals.
Hack #4: Set the mood
Where and when do you do your best work? Is there a certain atmosphere that makes your creativity flow? Find that place.
Play some music or open a window. Pack up your laptop and head to a bookstore. Light a candle or make some tea. Create the type of atmosphere that will enliven your curiosity and ignite your creativity.
Hack #5: Prioritize
On the road to any deadline, there will be things you simply cannot do. You will have to prioritize. If something doesn’t get scheduled, it won’t get done.
Look through your goals and determine which ones you can do later. Allow yourself to say “no” to the things that aren’t urgent. And be honest with yourself. If you try and accomplish too much at once, you will burn out, and your creativity will suffer.
Hack #6: Give yourself permission to be imperfect
As creatives, we are often hard on ourselves. It’s easy to demand perfection from yourself, especially when facing a deadline. But the truth is; it’s okay to be imperfect.
It is more important that something exists than that it’s flawless. You can always fix it later.
Hack #7: Take breaks
If you push yourself too hard, you will face burnout. And burnout will cut the lifeline to your creativity faster than you can say, “I don’t have time for that.”
It’s okay to take breaks. In fact, it’s important if you want to avoid burnout and have the energy to do your best work. They don’t have to be long. Even fifteen minutes is fine, but if you feel yourself starting to fade, stop and come back later. Schedule a few minutes to feed your soul some inspiration.
Hack #8: Understand your creative tendencies
When I get an idea, I’m usually super pumped about it. I can’t wait to get started! The beginning of a new project is the same way, but there comes a time, not too much later, when I know I’ll feel differently. When I reach the second or third chapter in a book, I’ll begin to second-guess myself. I’ll start to wonder if it’s really any good at all, or if I’m wasting my time.
It’s important to understand your creative tendencies when facing a deadline so you can prepare for them. What does your creative cycle look like?
Hack #9: Stay active
In the midst of a deadline, it’s easy to get holed up in your lair and never come out, but staying active is one of the things that will help keep your mind sharp.
Consider going for a run in the morning before getting to work, or even taking a walk during one of your breaks. Staying active will create some margin in your work and help you avoid overwhelm.
What are some of your favorite productivity hacks? Do you use any of these? If so, how have they helped you be more productive?