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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

3 Reasons You Can't Seem to Stick to Deadlines You Set for Yourself (and How to Start)

Your boss approaches your desk and says something along the lines of, “Hey, when you get a minute, can you pull together a sales sheet for our latest product? No rush—I just want to get somebody on that.” You agree enthusiastically and are thrilled that your boss chose to approach you with additional work.

One month later, he stops by to ask you for that very sales sheet, and your pupils dilate in pure panic. Why? Well, you never actually did it. Your boss never set a firm deadline, and that project completely fell off your radar. It slipped through the cracks. It got lost in the shuffle. However you want to say it, it just didn’t get done.

Sound familiar? Well, this instance is one of the many examples of why it’s so important to set deadlines for yourself—even if the powers that be didn’t pick a specific date for completion.

As a freelancer and remote worker, I’ve found self-imposed deadlines to be incredibly helpful in working with clients who seem to never actually reference a calendar. Muse writer and fellow freelancer Aja Frost agrees: She wrote this great article outlining a few benefits of setting personal deadlines.

However, we all know that doing this is only half the battle. Even if you’re aware of the upside of establishing these personal end dates, getting started can still seem impossible—and those projects can continuously be pushed to the backburner.

So, here are three reasons you might be neglecting that date you circled on the calendar, as well as some suggestions for giving yourself a kick in the pants and tackling those pesky projects once and for all!

1. You’re Not Taking Yourself Seriously

Deadlines seem pretty darn serious when they’re mandated by your boss, don’t they? However, they never seem quite as stressful when we set them ourselves. You know that disappointing your supervisor is a big no-no, and possibly even threatening to your job. But, disappointing yourself? Well, you’ll get over that in no time.

The Fix

If you think that having strict direction will give you the boost you need—you can always ask your boss for a firm deadline. Otherwise, enter your personal deadline in your planner, and then vow to honor that as you would any other important cut-off date. Write it in red ink if you have to. We all know that’s extra scary. Or, set several reminders. (The more annoying, the better).

2. You Haven’t Established a Plan

Oftentimes, we delay getting started on something simply because we feel overwhelmed. You keep pushing that project until tomorrow—and then “tomorrow” never comes. So, before you know it, it’s two hours before your self-imposed deadline, and you haven’t even gotten started.

The Fix

To steer clear of this stressful time crunch, map out a brief plan or outline for your assignment before determining your end date. This will help you avoid feeling intimidated by the project, as well as ensure that the deadline you’re setting is actually realistic. Don’t be scared to break it down into several smaller parts.

3. You’re Not Utilizing the People Involved

Perhaps you’re self-aware enough to know that you’ll just never be totally accountable to yourself—no matter how scary you make that deadline seem. You have no issue actually setting the target. But, you can’t seem to stick to it when nobody else is counting on that end date.

The Fix

Just because you set the deadline yourself doesn’t mean you can’t loop in your boss or a client. So, once you’ve established your plan and picked your targeted date, send a quick email that says, “Thanks for the details on this project! I’ll start working on it, and will plan to have it over to you by [your deadline].” Even if the person on the receiving end of that message doesn’t actually hold you to that cut-off date, you’ll feel added pressure with him or her knowing about your anticipated timeline.

Deadlines can be stressful. But, unfortunately, they’re one of those necessary evils. If you frequently set targets for yourself but can’t seem to stick to them, give these tips a try to hold yourself accountable and kick start your productivity!

Photo of deadline courtesy of Shutterstock.