How To Deal With The Deadline Syndrome
If you’re reading this; you may have the deadline syndrome.
Meeting deadlines isn't difficult, you just need a system that works for you and stick to it.
As designers, we're always dealing with a million tasks at a time – whether it's dealing with client queries or doing research on a new product's user needs. Additionally, we've got real work to do too. You know, designing things and sorting through the high volume of projects (In the case of a freelance designer).
It goes without saying that missing deadlines is bad for business whether you're working freelance or in-house and to keep track of all your responsibilities, you need a system. If you don't have one well you're in luck because I'm going to touch on how to do exactly that in this article.
The State of Zero-Stress
To become a better and more productive designer, the first and most important thing you should always try to achieve is the state of "Little or Zero Stress."
Stress comes in many forms but the most common for designers are carrying unfinished projects around in your head, feeling like everyone is a better designer than you and dealing with negative feedback from your client or boss. These things affect you mentally and subsequently leaves you exhausted, feeling miserable which then compromises your productivity. In a nutshell, reduce stress levels, and you'll become a better designer.
Make A List
The first step to meeting your deadlines is to make an exhaustive list of tasks including everything you have to do and everything you want to do. You can do this with a pen and paper or a task management app (more on this later)
After making your list of tasks/projects, the next thing you want to do is prioritise. Starting from the top of your list, sort each task by level of priority. Doing this will help you figure out when you want each task completed by, how much time each will take, which tasks you will delegate to someone else and which one you have to do yourself.
Do Hard Things First
It's pretty common to start with the easiest tasks first and leave the harder ones for later. But if we're not kidding ourselves, this approach automatically means saving the difficult tasks for “tomorrow” which probably means the day after that and before you know it, your whole schedule is down the tubes. Tackling more difficult tasks first means that by the time you’re exhausted and energy levels are low, you only have the easier ones to get to and it gives you such relief to know that the hardest ones are out of your way.
There are times when you just want to chill even though you know it in your guts it's just not the right time but you easily convince yourself you'll get back on track. 9 out of 10 times, you won't!
Set up an accountability system for yourself. It could be a friend, a fellow designer, or anyone you feel comfortable with. Share with them what you hope to achieve in the coming days or weeks. That way when you want to “chill” at the wrong time, there will be someone to put you in check.
Tools you can trust
There are several ways to keep track of your projects and tasks. You may choose to go the traditional pen and paper way or explore a digital approach - I would suggest the digital approach. There has been a lot of different online task managers over the years but Todoist is my favourite of the bunch. You can organise your tasks into projects and subs. For example, you can create a project “UI Design”, then break it down into sub-projects: emails, prototyping, invoicing and so on. Each project or sub project can be colour coded. Todoist even goes as far as turning your productivity into a game of sorts where your efficiency over time is charted and you get little congratulatory notes when you hit milestones – nothing tops that!
If Todoist is too complicated for you, there are more simplified tasks managers out there, Gtasks, Microsoft To-Do, Trello, Wunderlist and a bunch of others. Find what works for you and stick to it.
Ultimately it's not the tools you use or the order in which you tackle your tasks but the general change in approach and figuring out a reliable way to organise your time and deadlines that's most important. Anything that lets you get on with your core work of designing things!
Try out a few of these techniques and see if they keep you on track. Tweak them all you want to fit your own work style and flow. Make them your own. You will discover that even if you’re unable to achieve everything on your list, about 80% will be done perfectly. The joy you derive from this will energize you, and keep you going.