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42 Ways to Make your Deadlines and Goals

Photography: firewarrior

If only every dream came true, every deadline was met and every goal achieved. In practice, it just doesn’t work that way. Plans are often left half-finished, goals never seem to get closer and as for deadlines… well, if a life really was on the line, they’d never get broken. Fortunately for all of us, a life never is.

There are all sorts of ways to increase the chances that you’ll make your deadlines and your goals, and that’s the way it should be. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Here are 42 different ways. Pick the ones that work for you:

1. Get Things Done
Not our cup of tea (for all these reasons) but David Allen’s GTD system works for some people. If you’re one of them, we think you’re strange… but there’s nothing wrong with that.

2. The Printable CEO
David Seah’s Printable CEO system turns work into a game that gives scores for completing tasks. It’s easier than GTD and a lot more fun.

3. Procrastinate
Work has a habit of expanding to fill the time available. Wait until there’s less time and you might just find that you’re getting more done.

4. Delegate
You don’t have to do everything yourself. Another way to make sure that you do what you need to is to call in help. It’s not as scary as it sounds.

5. Assassinate your Irrelevant Goals
There are important goals and there are goals you can live without achieving. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just don’t do them.

6. Separate the Soft Deadlines from the Hard Deadlines
There are deadlines that absolutely have to be met, and there are deadlines that you probably should meet. Know where you can compromise and when you have to sacrifice.

7. Plan the Future
For some people spontaneity works. For others, each step has to be laid out long in advance. Know whether you need to just get on with it — or get on with just thinking about it.

8. Don’t Procrastinate
Yes, yes… we said you should procrastinate. But we also said different methods work for different people. Procrastination can create the stress that gets things done but if it means things never get done for you, you need to think again — or rather stop thinking and do it.

9. Work a 4-Hour Week
Timothy Ferriss swears you can achieve everything you want working just four hours a week by doing what you want now. For most of us, working four hours a week is a goal in itself.

10. Drop the Self-Help Books
Reading books like Timothy Ferriss’ and David Allen’s are often replacements for taking action. Unless your goal is to read lots of books, you might be better off tossing the volumes and doing what you need to do.

11. Check your Goals
There’s a difference between a goal and a dream. You have to know your goals before you can achieve them but you also have to know which goals are achievable.

12. Know Why you’re Doing It
Divorce courts are filled with couples who just drifted into marriage and offices are filled with employees going through the motions without knowing — or caring — why they’re doing it. Look at the big picture and you might feel more inclined to reach it.

13. Focus on the Reward
That big picture is likely to include the benefits of reaching your goal. Some people find the benefits — whether that’s financial freedom, a bigger house or just a sense of achievement — a more powerful motivator than the achievement itself.

14. Correctly Estimate the Time you Need…
One reason that deadlines get missed is very simple: the work takes longer than you expect. Get the timing right and you’ll have a better chance of getting the work done in time.

15. …Then Take off 10 Percent
And another reason is that you’ve given it too much time. If you’re one of those people who works best under stress, then once you’ve decided how much time you need, reduce it. The fear will keep you focused.

16. Share your Goals
Peer pressure can be a powerful motivator too. Tell your friends what you plan to do and if you don’t stay on track, you’ll have to admit your failure when they ask how you’re doing. Shame works too.

17. Keep your Goals Positive
Goals can be negative (“I’m going to kick this stinking job!”) or they can be positive (“I’m going to be my own boss…”). Positive goals tend to be easier to reach than negative ones.

18. Break your Goals into Milestone-Sized Chunks
When a goal takes a long time to achieve, it’s hard to stay enthusiastic throughout the journey. Aiming to write a novel one chapter at a time or achieve 100 sales before thinking of your 1000th can keep you moving forward a little at a time.

19. Take it One Day at a Time
Or a day at a time. You can think of each day as a container that you have to fill with valuable completed tasks. Each day then becomes a new challenge and each completed challenge moves you one step closer to your ultimate goal.

20. Build a Routine
The best way to use this approach is to create a daily routine. When completing steps towards your goals becomes a thing of habit, you can’t help but reach them.

21. Build your Day Around your Most Important Task
Each day though is going to include a number of mini-tasks and sometimes you’ll find that some of them don’t get done. Make sure that time for the most important task is set in stone and build the rest of the day around it.

22. Do Tasks that Make a Difference
You might find that it helps too to occasionally complete tasks that make a real difference. A software programmer, for example, might have a lot of coding too but being able to complete sections of the program and play with it while he works can help to keep him motivated.

23. Do a Variety of Tasks
And when you’re doing a lot of tasks to reach your final goal, try to mix up the activity. Boredom is a pretty effective deadline- and goal-killer.

24. Use Post-it Notes
Yes, they’re old fashioned and you’ll probably need to get a bigger computer screen if you want to see what you’re doing, but writing what you have to do and sticking them where you can’t miss them can be a good way of keeping what you need to do on your mind.

25. Get Physical… with your Reward Symbols
Step into a top salesman’s office and you can expect see an overworked telephone and an expensive suit. But don’t be surprised if you also spot a toy Ferrari or mini Lamborghini on the desk. Salespeople often use physical symbols to motivate them to reach their sales goals. It might work for you too.

26. Make it Matter
Toy cars are nice… if you’re in sales. A better way to get motivated though is to have a goal whose results matter. It’s good to be rich; it’s better to be a philanthropist.

27. Get Organized
It sounds so fundamental and yet so many people don’t do it. Their desks are a mess, their papers are in chaos and their goals… well, they know they put them somewhere. Put everything in its place and it will be easier to find what you need — and what you need to do.

28. Get Busy
Nothing kills achievement faster than lethargy. Get in the habit of taking action and you’ll find that the momentum alone can take you far.

29. Get the Equipment you Need
That old saw about the right tools for the right job might have been written for carpenters but it applies to everyone. Whether you’re building a website, writing a screenplay or creating a new version of the Web, take the risk — invest in the right tools.

30. Get the Friends you Need
All your friends should be supportive when you tell them what you’re planning to do, but some of your friends should be able to help you too. They can supply information, expertise and even a lending hand. And if they can’t, ask if they can supply friends who can.

31. Network Upwards
One method that people have find helpful when it comes to achieving their goals is to hang out with people who have already achieved theirs. When you really have to justify your position, you will.

32. Join Groups
Support groups aren’t just for people trying to ditch the bottle or steer clear of the roulette wheel. They can also be good for anyone engaged in a long-term project or hoping to reach a different goal. There are plenty of writers’ groups and artists’ studios. If a group doesn’t exist for your field, maybe you should start one.

33. Build a Team
You could even go so far as to build a team to help you reach your goal. No one said you have to reach your goal alone.

34. Do the Research
Yes, it’s all part of basic preparation and no less important for all that. Careful research doesn’t just give you the right information though. It can also give you new ideas as you discover tools and details you would never have thought of.

35. Know What you Need to Know
“Research” can often be a euphemism for procrastination. Effective research starts before you head to the library or open the browser. It begins by knowing what you need to know and keeping your search well-focused.

36. Understand the Sacrifice
Gaining something often means giving something up. That could be a job you hate, but it could also be money or time with the family. Knowing what you have to sacrifice to achieve your goals is part of the preparation?

37. Enjoy the Process
Part of that sacrifice may be coping with the difficulty of actually doing what it takes to reach your goal. Creating a top-selling computer game might be fun; writing the code that governs the physics engine could be as exciting as counting matchsticks. If you can find a way to make the actual creation process enjoyable, you’ll make your goal-getting fun.

38. Ask your Boss What it Will Take
Not all achievements are up to you. If your goal is to move up within your company, make sure you know exactly what that will take. Ask the person who makes the decisions — and set yourself deadlines to meet those demands.

39. Be Nice — you’ll Get Help
Getting where you want to go and rushing to get what you want done in time can mean shoving competitors out of the way and thinking of number one first. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you can — and should — do it with a smile. At some point, you will need help. You’ll be more likely to get it if people like you.

40. Know When to Give up
No, we’re not being defeatist. The path to a goal isn’t always straight. Sometimes you can get lost and find yourself facing a dead-end. The important thing then is to know how to recognize it and turn around before you burn up your energy for nothing.

41. Know What to Do Next
All of these methods should help you to reach the goal that’s foremost in your mind. But things never stop there. Know what you want to do next and you’ll understand that achieving that goal is just one small step forward.

42. Do What Works for you
And finally, you can untangle these contradictory systems — and everyone else’s — by picking and choosing the approaches that work for you. Or better still, create your own.

Now there’s a goal…

[tags] gtd [/tags]


  1. lee Says:

    A well-written post. agree with you about the need to stop procrastination. I've found help at http://www.stop-procrastination.org and that website has a variety of ways to stop procrastination.

  2. Beth Says:

    I love that it's 42 reasons. (Said the Douglas Adams fan.)

    It sounds like a lot of the items on that list can fall under one category: eliminate excuses. Thanks for tackling so many of those. A lot of people don't realize how many different ways their motivation, time, and energy can be sapped away.

  3. Elaine Appleton Grant Says:

    As a full-time magazine journalist and teacher, I'm always looking for ways to become more productive. So partly to fulfill my own curiosity, I wrote a package of stories for U.S. News & World Report on Web-based tools soloists and small company owners can use to speed up their work -- thought you might find it interesting.


  4. Nate Says:

    After reading number 11 I didn't read another one of your suggestions. You said you have to know which goals are achievable. Whoever wrote this is wrong, no goal is to big to not achieve, with hard work and determination any goal is achievable.

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