As a boss, my job is to get more work accomplished for less money. That doesn’t make me your enemy, but it’s an important fact to remember. When I need something done, I’m likely rounding down. Will it take a day and a half? Round down to one. Needs 6 people? Down to 5. This goes for everything. I want to minimize as much as possible, because these are the metrics I’m measured by. Now, this is a gross oversimplification. There is much more to being a boss than cutting costs.
Today, we aren’t talking about bosses though, we’re talking time. Sometimes, your deadline can’t be finagled. Sorry, you’ll have to manage. A deadline does not become this mythical immovable object on it’s own, though. It got that way because an unreasonable promise was made and now we’re all counting on you. So let’s learn to avoid it.
People always promise more than they can deliver. Yes even you, no matter how negative your self image may be. When your boss asks for a timeline, it’s a guarantee that you will not provide yourself adequate time.
Usually, this is not a symptom of overconfidence. It is because you can not expect the unexpected. I hate that stupid saying. You’re not psychic, what do they expect from you? What you must learn to do is allot yourself time for screw ups. They’re going to happen, and they will take way more time than you thought.
When I first learned this technique, I tried to figure out how long something would take, then doubled it. What’s scary is, often I was pretty accurate. Imagine telling your boss something will take you a week and it ends up taking two. UGH! You look horrible, and it’s really frustrating. You’re working your ass off, and nothing is getting done. Your boss thinks you’re bad at your job, and you feel like you’re bad at your job. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Nowadays, my subconscious already tacks on extra time before I even realize it. But I still try to squeak in a few extra days. We’ll expand more on why later, for now, trust me, you want that time.
You know what really makes you look like an all-star? When you finish something way ahead of schedule. Finishing something early saves money, and means more production. Cutting costs and increasing production are two things that really get a manager salivating. They eat it up. If you develop a reputation for providing this, you will be the stuff of legends.
But I never have enough time... How can I finish early? I’ll make it simple. Don’t procrastinate. We all do it. Especially now that you have this nice fat timeline with plenty of room for errors. It’s very tempting to think, “There’s plenty of time, no rush.” Or the dreaded "I'll take it easy this morning, then kick it into high gear later." That is not why you asked for more time. Don’t fall into this trap. You didn’t ask for more time because you’re lazy. You asked for more time because you need it.
The problem is, avoiding all procrastination is nearly impossible. It takes superhuman levels of will power, and I’m no superhuman. You need what I call productive procrastination. We will delve into productive procrastination more in a later blog. I’ve applied it to basically every aspect of my life, not only my work life.
We all need mental breaks, or else the job becomes tedious and monotonous. If you don’t take breaks you become less productive. That’s fine, embrace it, but do so in a productive way. Don’t pick up, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook. These are huge time sinks. Switch your focus to something that will help your performance, or switch tasks on your assignment. This will allow your mind the time it needs to reset and refocus. Progress is the key to productive procrastination. Progress can come in many ways. Researching an upcoming problem, talking to someone else about an issue, or planning future steps are all forms of progress.
So let’s combine the two skills we’ve learned. Give yourself some breathing room, and don’t waste your time. By combining these techniques, you should be able to finish most tasks early, or at least on time. The irony is, you don’t have to work any harder. When applied properly, this will change people’s opinion of you. When you complete assignments late, it doesn’t matter if the initial timeline was unreasonable. People will view you as a slacker. It doesn’t matter if you’re saddled with nothing but impossible tasks. When you don’t meet deadlines, the assumption will be you are either lazy or slow.
On the flip side, if you properly negotiate an adequate timeline for yourself, you can work at a normal pace, and people will think you’re out there killing it. It’s all about managing people’s expectations, and then making certain you meet those expectations.