How do you not let deadlines sneak up on you? How do you not stay up until midnight writing a school paper? People say “just work backwards.” How do you DO that? Here are several ways with the exact steps. I have also made a few videos on this topic – links are at the bottom of this blog.
Whether you are in school, work from home, run a household, work at an office etc. etc. – we all need to know how to prevent that tiring, “beating myself up” feeling when a deadline sneaks up on us. In our younger days, we can get by with rushing, staying up late and pushing hard. It gets harder as we take on more life roles and as we age.
Use a Paper Calendar-Backwards
Break down your project by working backwards (here’s HOW) Many people work forward, diving in and “getting to it.” But then, when something interrupts you, and you forget to return to the project, and…. you’re sunk. Here we go, midnight.
(1) Get a paper/online calendar which shows at least the next few months. First, write your deadline on the calendar. And subtract a few days to give yourself a buffer; doesn’t something ALWAYS go wrong!
(2) If you know the step in the middle, write it down. There’s no rule that says you have to go A-Z. Fill in the “big” steps (milestones, key markers along the way, celebration moments!). You’ll then see your start date.
(3) Not great at estimating time? Double each step’s estimate; or give yourself a best case/worst case, a range of time/days.
(4) If you have ADHD, first brainstorm the steps and on round two, then put them into order. It’s an executive function exercise to break down a project so this approach works better typically than trying to step it out and order the steps all at once in your mind or on paper or Post-it notes. This carries through all the other examples today.
Draw and Mark the Steps
Let’s say you’re redoing a space for your home office.
(1) Draw the room (or take a photo and print it).
(2) Mark #1, #2, #3, etc. as the steps to get the project done.
(3) Add time to: gather materials, look at home for or buy organizational products, take things to their new homes (sell/donate/recycle, etc.).
Partner up to Break it Down
Call a colleague or friend who is good at projects. Work together on breaking down your project. Some people also need the socializing to help hold themselves accountable. (Organizer or Coach also applies here if you need outside expertise, systems knowledge, privacy or different perspectives.)
Slay the Perfectionism
If you have worked with me, you’ve probably heard me say “Language matters.” How we talk to ourselves about productivity and organization touches our sense of who we are, our self esteem, and confidence.
Instead of negativity or perfectionism or procrastination, begin to use phrases like: I’ll start with a “framework.” “Just a rough draft.” “I’ll experiment.” “I’ll dip my toe in.” “It will be a 60% quality draft.” “I’ll only do the outline today.” “A rough sketch.”
Let the App do the Work
Sometimes, an app can help you to break down a project. And some are colorful, fun, or interesting to learn so your mind gets more engaged. I use Trello and SimpleMind when I need to brainstorm my steps.
PS I have several videos if you’d prefer to watch and listen. The content is different. They are here.
If you’d like an intro call where we talk about coaching you on this topic, contact me through the contact form. The intro call is at no charge to get to know each other and answer questions, discuss needs/goals, and such.