Plenty of people say to me, ‘I would never get anything done if it wasn’t for deadlines; it isn’t until the deadline starts to get near that I can get myself started.’

It can definitely be an effective strategy in terms of getting stuff done. However, it means that we’re using our threat system, big dollops of adrenalin and cortisol, to scare ourselves into doing something. In the right amounts stress hormones can improve performance, but too much, or combining them with long hours and late nights, will actually impair our ability to use the logical, sophisticated pre-frontal cortex.

So, not only do we feel anxious and out of control, but we are probably not producing our best work.


Can we change our approach to deadlines?

If this is the way you typically get things done, it can be hard to change because the rush of chemicals can be addictive.

One common suggestion is to set your own deadline a few days earlier than the real one. Theoretically this is a good idea, but if you crave that deadline rush, it’s unlikely to fool you because you KNOW you still have 2 more days.

But what if you actually didn’t?

In my work with clients I teach them to time block- to plan out the week ahead, and decide exactly what you are going to do when, and for how long.

So, if you know that Monday 2-4pm is the only time you have this week to get a particular task done, then you’re more likely to do it, even if it isn’t due until Friday.

Break the task down into bite size tasks

Another tip is to break down the task into small tasks, and set aside time- and mini deadlines- for each one.

This helps in a number of ways:

  • Firstly, it can help you to estimate the time needed more accurately. Human beings are terrible at estimating how long something is likely to take, and nearly always wildly under-estimate. It’s known as the Planning Fallacy. Breaking down a bigger task can help us to assess the time more accurately, and revise the time needed for future chunks of the work.
  • Secondly, it can help us get over the hump of starting the task in the first place. Even if we’ve only done a small part of it, just getting started can make it feel more manageable and less scary.
  • Finally, not only do we get a little spurt of adrenaline, we also get a quick pay off of a sense of achievement, a spurt of dopamine, which is what we’re craving when we leave things until just before the deadlines. So it’s win/win. Less stress, more productivity.

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More guidance?

If you’d like some more guidance to help you make the most of the time you’ve got, I’ve just published my new Earn Learn Thrive Productivity Planner, for all you ELT Freelancers and Business Owners.

Based on the system I teach my clients, the planner is specifically designed to help you break down your goals into bite-size manageable chunks, and use your time in the most effective way. You can get more done, AND actually reduce the amount of time you spend hunched over a desk.

Step by step, the productivity planner will take you through an easy system which helps you to get better at planning, assessing your time accurately, and learning as you go.

It’s a combination of goal setting, regular reviews, and daily time blocking. And it really works.

  • The ELT Productivity Planner is undated, so you can start at any point in the year.
  • It’s A4 size, to give you plenty of room to write and plan.
  • It’s printed on cream paper, rather than white, so there’s less contrast, making it more comfortable to read for many people.
  • There are 141 pages and 8 x six week sprints, meaning that it will last at least 48 weeks (if you don’t take any holidays- which you definitely should!)

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