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How to Take the Stress Out of Deadlines

How to Take Stress Out of Deadlines

Do you dread deadlines like I do?

Deadlines were never an issue for me during my earlier years.  I did whatever it took, even if it meant working during the evening hours, putting time in on the weekend, or staying up all night.

You could say obsession characterized my working style melded with the notion that I and only I held responsibility for everything.

No wonder I burned out!

Now I avoid deadlines like the plague because they trigger a stress response for me. This became clear during my second go around as a freelance writer. I could have managed the deadlines involved in freelance work if that was my only focus. But I couldn’t manage them along with all my other activities – teaching meditation, writing for Always Well Within, taking care of our small fruit orchard, house maintenance, and time for my own relaxation and self care – without feeling frazzled and fried.

As a result, I’ve created my own method for removing stress from deadlines. I even eradicate deadlines whenever I can.

11 Steps to Remove Stress from Deadlines

I’ve had to implement every single one of the following steps.  Maybe you’ll only need a few.  These are the steps I recommend if deadlines feel like a menace to you too.

1. Know your Limits

How big is your plate?  How much energy do you have? Be honest with yourself.

As someone who lives with chronic illness, I can work 20-25 hours, but more than that starts to shoot up the red line on the stress thermometer, adversely effect my health, and deplete my joy too.

It’s not easy to accept my limits since my identity has neatly entwined itself with my work.  I can still fool myself sometimes too, especially when I get excited by a prospective idea.   I might entertain it for a few days ready to go full throttle until I do the math.

Yes, please do the math.  Add up how much you’re working now.  Evaluate how much time a new project will take. Add them together.  Does it make sense?

That doesn’t mean you should never add anything to your work or life program.  But instead of piling on more, consider rearranging or simplifying your work instead.  How can you create more space so the new piece fits?

Read more here:  Embrace Simplicity and Ease through the Art of Subtraction.

Your life, energy, and health are like a puzzle. Only so many pieces fit in the frame.  The picture looks so beautiful when it’s the right size, but strange when extraneous puzzle pieces are piled up all over the sides.

When you go beyond your limits, you’re taking away from yourself, from your health, and from your happiness.  Yes, you can rally now and then to get a job done, but don’t make “rally” your lifestyle or you’ll eventually deplete yourself.

2. Start Early

I always feel better when I start early on a project, far ahead of a deadline. When I dive into a project as soon as I can, I get a realistic idea of what will actually be involved.

Often, we underestimate the time required for an assignment.  It’s not unusual for a project to take twice as much time as you might image.  That miscalculation will automatically double the stress when the deadline looms near.

3. Single Task

Multi-tasking can increase the stress hormone, cortisol, trigger mental fog and confused thinking, and make you more distracted.  As a result, when you multi-task chances are your project will take even more time. You’ll probably feel stressed as well thanks to that cortisol push both during the project and as the deadline nears.

4. Remove As Many Deadlines As Possible

This might not be possible in your line of work, but why not take a look and see if there’s a deadline or two you can remove?

Whenever I’m offered a new project or imagine creating a new program in my mind, I always consider the number of deadlines that will be involved.  Will the deadlines be daily? Weekly? Monthly?

I’ve said no to work that involves deadlines, like committing to writing an article for another blog every month or giving a course in an intense format.   It works better for me to go with my own flow.

I still have a few deadlines each week, but they are manageable for me.

5. Deadlines Are Not Immutable

This is a bit tricky as you don’t want to appear to be a flake.  At the same time, most people will understand if you request an extra day or two to complete a project.  It helps if you do this a few days in advance rather than at the last minute.

The secret is to be genuine, honest, and sincere when you make your request.

6. Abolish Mind-Made Deadlines

I used to live and breathe (well, let’s say gasp a lot) on my own mind-made deadlines.  For example,

  • I have to wash the windows this week.
  • I have to write a blog post this week.
  • I have to finish my complete to-do list today.

The truth is, at least in most cases, you don’t have to.

Creating a deadline in your mind can be a skillful way to keep yourself on track.  But if the deadline amplifies your stress and is truly a figment of your own imagination, let it go.  Give yourself a little more space and time so you can breathe easy.  There’s no need to turn yourself into a wreck.

Read more on this:  Overcome By Shoulds? Take Back Your Life.

7. You Can Change Your Mind

I always felt responsible and never wanted to let anyone else down.  So I welded myself to task completion, no matter what.

But you have a right to change your mind if a task or project is not working for you.  This is not something to do recklessly, but it’s a choice you can make.  You don’t have to push yourself through to the deadline if the work is taking everything out of you.

This is another time when sincere honesty can save you from overwhelm.

8. Is Your Heart in It?

It’s easier to meet deadlines when your heart is fully into your project or task.

Understandably, you’ll have ups and downs with your work from day to day.  Some bits are bound to be more exciting than others.  But overall, if your heart’s not there, your work will feel dreary and deadlines will be all the more dreadful as a result.

Ask yourself this key question and then, if the answer is “no” consider how you can adjust.

9. Create Healthy Work Habits

Sensible work habits keep you centered, relaxed, and in the flow.

I’ve been loose about my work routines in the past, but now I know they are essential to my sanity.  For example, I chunk down my projects into pieces and plan them out so I’ll finish a day ahead.  I felt so delighted when I created and finished my first Joyful Wisdom Letter ahead of schedule and with ease.

Read about  My 16 Zen Work Habits.

10. Pace Yourself

I take time everyday now  to swim, do Tai Chi, rest or take a nap.  I can glue myself to the computer for hours at a time, but I know I’ll just get a neck ache, act cranky, and feel like a drone.

Research shows that taking short breaks improves your focus and concentration. So don’t keep pushing when it would be better to enjoy a break. You’ll be more effective as a result.

11. Stop When Overwhelmed

You won’t need to do this if you pace yourself well.  But every now and then, I slip up and go over the edge trying to do to much.  Add deadlines to the mix and the tendency to keep pushing becomes almost irresistible.

But please do resist.

Watch for signs of overwhelm like irritability, tears, or fatigue, and stop immediately. You might need a few minutes to breath, an hour, or even a whole day.  Once you’re refreshed, it will be so much easier to meet your deadline with renewed zest.

I know some people thrive on deadlines.  The adrenaline gets them motivated and on the ball.  That can be good in the short term, but be careful on the long run.  It could burn you out.

At the same time, we’re all different.  Only you know what you need and whether deadlines assist you or drive you into stress.

How do you feel about deadlines and stress?  I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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14 Comments

  1. jean sampson

    Hey Sandra, a timely post because I have gotten really busy at the art center and have had lots of deadlines to meet for our 40th Anniversary as an art center. And classes started at the same time!! And I had a cold right before classes started and—-!!!
    Fortunately my heart was in it all and I did get rid of the cold, at least the worst part of it. The thing I COULD put off if I were even more busy is sending the information for the next series of classes to the committee people who get that info out. But I ALWAYS send the info in the minute I get it because I KNOW that I will forget (many do) and get left off the roster and website. That would mean I might not get students next session and that would NOT be good! I know myself well enough to know what I have to do NOW and what can wait. And I have learned to say “no” when I really cannot do any more! It came with age and lots of unpleasant experiences for me! 🙂

    • Wow, sounds like such a busy time, Jean. It’s interesting how the body almost always pops in to give us the message to slow down a bit. I’m glad you know yourself so well and have learned to say “no” when you can’t really do any more. That such an inspiration, showing how it’s possible for all of us too.

  2. #1 #6 and #11 have all played a part in stressful days for me Sandra.

    I need to remind myself pretty regularly that at the end of the day it’s all small stuff and turn within to where peace and love and joy live. Then I can breathe again and go about my day with an entirely new perspective.

    New perspectives can create miracles!

    • Hi Elle,
      Those are good ones, I’ve done them millions of times! I think your solution to turn within is the absolute best. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do right now. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Very helpful and practical points here.
    I’ve not been too bad with deadlines because I was always able to manage my time pretty well and I’ve learned over the years to say ‘no’, but when I first started editing, I found having to make deadlines for when the work would be finished a bit daunting, because I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take. I set what I thought was a deadline with a lot of leeway, but I found that the important thing for me was just relaxing and telling myself that it’d be okay, that I’d make the deadline, and if I didn’t, it didn’t really matter because an email to the client to say I’d got behind was all that was probably needed.

    It’s the same way I take stress off catching a train, I say to myself, if I miss it, I just get the next one. So what if I have to hang out for an hour. It’s no big deal. Relaxing about it makes me more efficient too. I’ve never not made a deadline, and the last one I made a little tighter because I want to have it finished then so I can move onto my next client. I may be working long hours, but I’m confident I’ll make it … and if not, well … everything will be fine anyway. It’s not like someone is going to throw a bomb at me.

    • I love your relaxed approach to deadlines, Tahlia! You are so right, it’s not the end of the world if we miss a deadline. If we can just be more relaxed to begin with, like you are, then it’s likely we won’t. Travel deadlines (like the train) can be another big source of stress. Your approach is so brilliant.

      You’ve brought up some good points. Sometimes, we just don’t know how long a deadline will take when we’re new at a particular task or job. And, if we manage our time well, generally we won’t need to be too stressed about deadlines.

      Thanks for your contributions. They really add to the discussion.

  4. Hi Sandra, there are some really helpful suggestions here. Your tip to start early is a great one for me, I often fall into the trap of delaying a project and end up pushing way too hard to make the deadline. A little early (and realistic) planning goes a long way!

    • That’s one of my favorites, Dave! It’s really helped me a lot. I’m glad it’s a good reminder for you. Take care1

  5. Hi Sandra,

    Great suggestions. #5 Deadlines Are Not Immutable, #6 Abolish Mind-Made Deadlines and #7 You Can Change Your Mind resonates with me. I don’t like making excuses. I’m all about taking responsibility for my actions, especially when I give my word.

    But there are times when I’ve taken things a little to far…to the point when it becomes bondage.

    Sometimes I ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” There are consequences but in my experience life goes on. Not sure that’s applicable to all deadlines but these 3 points are liberating to me.

    Thanks you!

    • Hi Kelvin,

      “Bondage” is such a good word to describe the fix that we get ourselves in at times! Being overly responsible can end up becoming a burden, although I’m all for being a responsible person.

      That’s a terrific question to ask. I glad you know that life goes on and you have the willingness to liberate yourself when deadlines become too much for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Tyson Vincent

    I really enjoyed your blog! This post has made me realize what I am doing wrong concerning my own deadlines. I am in my second year of college and deadlines stress me out so bad. But the steps you have shown me are genius and I am going to start implementing them in my life so that I don’t stress my self out. one of the steps that I definitely need to work on is “Start Early” if I did that I would be well off. My assignments would be done well before the due date.

    This is something that a lot of college students struggle with. We all procrastinate! It is terrible! I always procrastinate my homework and then my weekend is filled with stress when I realize that I only have a few days left to complete my assignment. If I just commit to living by these steps then I will definitely do better in my classes, and I will be able to remember things better for my tests.

    • Hi Tyson,

      I’m thrilled you enjoyed this post so much and think it will help you work more effectively with deadlines. I completely know the stress you’re talking about. Starting early has been a miraculous solution for me. I hope it works for you too. If not, you could consider working with a Procrastination Coach for awhile. I really wish you the best with this. I know it’s not fun to stress over deadlines. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it so much.

  7. No 7 is difficult for me – I always feel I am letting people down or that if I start something I have to finish it or that if I don’t succeed in what I set out to do, then I feel like a failure – so when I recently read this quote by Zig Ziglar it really meant a lot to me: “When obstacles arise, you change the direction to reach to your goal, you do not change your decision to get there.”

  8. Best article in this post its very helpful for me thanks to share this post.

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