Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Get Work Done in Advance if You Thrive on Looming Deadlines

There’s nothing like a deadline to get you moving on a work assignment. Your boss is expecting a final draft turned in the next morning—so you spend the entire day (and maybe even part of the night) in beast mode to finally check that item off your to-do list.

To planners, this sounds like a nightmare. Wouldn’t it be better to complete the task a few days ahead of schedule, rather than working right up to the last minute?

But for some people, a looming deadline is what drives them to deliver high-quality work. They thrive on that pressure and stress.

Should you be able to embrace that work style? Or are you forever relegated to reading endless advice about how to stop procrastinating (like this, this, and this)?

If you truly thrive on deadlines, you may be able to make it work for you—but there are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind to make it easier on your (and your team).

Do: Complete the Legwork in Your Downtime

You may do great work under pressure, but if you’re going to wait until crunchtime to get down to business, the last thing you’re going to want to do is spend those valuable hours doing the basic legwork for the project.

For example, instead of spending precious hours doing research for a report, setting up Excel formulas to determine numbers for a budget, or brainstorming topic ideas for an article, your time would probably be better spent actually piecing together the report, compiling the budget, or writing the article.

If you’re going to come close to a deadline, make it a priority to complete the legwork in your downtime in the days leading up to that deadline. Then, by the time you actually get down to work, you’ll be able to product the best work possible—and you’ll get it done quicker than if you have to start 100% from scratch.

Don’t: Forget to Factor in Work-Life Balance

Working under pressure may be your forte, but when that deadline comes at the tail end of a vacation, you’re not going to appreciate spending your last day in paradise working frantically toward completing a project.

With this in mind, look at your schedule at least a month or two in advance. Check for days when you’ll be traveling, nights you aren’t able to stay at work to finish something, or times when you’ll have company in town.

By planning ahead for the time periods that you absolutely have to set aside for other things, you’ll be able to better work around and work ahead for deadlines—and keep your work-life balance intact.

As a bonus, this can help you learn first-hand just how good it feels to get a project done and out of the way well before a deadline. Imagine you’re able to go on a week-long vacation completely worry-free—without having a project deadline looming in the back of your mind. That kind of experience may just push you to start completing assignments earlier than necessary.

Do: Set Incremental Deadlines

Since you know you work well with under set deadlines, use that to your advantage. Consider breaking down each assignment into smaller tasks, then setting a hard deadline for each task (including the legwork tasks mentioned above) leading up to the ultimate deadline.

For example, instead of listing “final Smith proposal” on your to-do list for Friday, spread smaller deadlines throughout the week: commit to a completed budget by Tuesday, an outline by Wednesday, and a final draft by midday Friday—just in time to compile the finalized report.

Can’t seem to get motivated to meet self-imposed deadlines? That brings us to:

Don’t: Do it Alone

Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may be able to work with him or her to create a work environment that can help you thrive. Explain that while you work well under pressure, you want to make sure you aren’t creating more work for your manager or the rest of your team by delivering your work—albeit quality work—at the last minute.

Your manager may then be willing to work with you to establish incremental deadlines that can help you stay ahead of your work. For example, if you’re expected to write three blog posts by the end of the week, suggest that your boss make one due Monday, one on Wednesday, and one on Friday—even though technically they aren’t needed until the following week.

It shouldn’t be your manager’s sole responsibility to keep you on track by adjusting your deadlines, but if he or she understands that this could benefit the entire team, he or she may be willing to help.

This can—and should—also open up a conversation to make sure that your deadline-oriented work isn’t creating a bottleneck or hindering anyone else’s work. (Hint: If you’re making anyone else’s job harder because you’re working right up against deadlines, it’s probably time for a change.)

Do: Embrace It (to Some Extent)

You can read all the productivity articles in the world and learn about systematically working ahead so that you never have to complete something up against a timeline. And honestly, adopting some of those habits will probably benefit you in the long run.

But as long as you’re maintaining your sanity and not impacting your manager or team in a negative way, you don’t necessarily have to completely change your style of work.

My advice? Make it as easy on yourself as possible and get at least some of the work done ahead of time—then, watch that clock and see your best work emerge.

Photo of sand timer courtesy of Shutterstock.