How to Get Better at Meeting Deadlines

As a freelance designer, taking on a high volume of projects can have financial and legal ramifications. Freelance Design in Practice addresses these issues and explains exactly what it takes to create a full-time freelance business.

by Patrick Dodd

If you’re a freelancer, I’d like to tell you that missing your clients’ deadlines is bad for business. But the truth is, freelancers missing their deadlines has become so commonplace today that it’s practically a joke. Everyone expects it. No one is shocked when a freelancer turns in her work a day or two late. In fact, it’s likely that your missing the deadline was built into your client’s schedule from the beginning.

While missing deadlines might not kill your business, hitting your deadlines could be the thing that sets you head and shoulders above your competition. Clients often prefer reliability to genius, so a freelancer who hits her deadlines is someone clients want to keep around.

Here are some strategies to keep yourself on schedule, your projects completed on time, and your clients coming back for more.

meeting-deadlinesimage from Shutterstock

Keep Track of Your Schedule

Keeping track of one’s time is the bane of any creative’s existence. But if you’re a freelancer, it’s also your saving grace. Missing a deadline is often the result of a series of mistakes, one of the biggest being not giving yourself enough time to do the job. There’s actually a scientific theory to back this up. It’s called the planning fallacy. The idea is that people, as a rule, will underestimate how long it will take them to complete a task. We think it’ll be a snap. So when it comes to planning our schedules, suddenly we all become optimists.

The best way to keep this from happening is with cold, hard data. Keeping a log of how long a particular task actually takes you will help you set realistic deadlines in the future, which is the first step toward meeting those deadlines.

Break It Down

Set milestones — a lot of them. Even small projects can be broken down into manageable pieces. Take this article, for example. First, there was the “come up with an idea for an article” milestone. Next, there was the “research stuff to write down” milestone. And finally, there was the “write stuff down” milestone. Breaking up your work into smaller tasks will keep you from feeling overwhelmed, and it will also give you a better idea of whether you’re on track or falling behind. Plus, it’s fun to check off tasks as you finish them. So the more milestones the better, I say!

Do Hard Things First

If you consistently struggle to meet your deadlines, try switching up the order in which you work on things each day. It’s pretty common to tackle the easiest tasks first and save the difficult ones for later. Which, of course, means saving the difficult tasks for tomorrow. Realistically speaking, however, “tomorrow” probably means the day after that. And before you know it, your whole timeline is in the toilet.

Joseph R. Ferrari, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at DePaul University and an expert in the study of procrastination, writes: “Research has shown it’s usually better to get the more difficult things done first and then indulge in the pleasurable ones.” In other words, knocking out your biggest tasks first will help keep your timeline from slipping and set you up for hitting that deadline.

Be Accountable

When you work in an agency, it’s easier to meet deadlines. You have a project manager and a creative director who keep you accountable for your work every step of the way. But when you’re on your own, it’s a lot easier to let yourself slide. It’s not hard to convince yourself that you’ll get back on track later — but we all know you won’t.

So set up a bit of accountability for yourself. Maybe it’s a significant other, a friend, or even a fellow freelancer, but you should let somebody in the loop as to what you hope to accomplish in the coming days. That way, when you try to cut out early to grab a few drinks with your friends, there will be someone around to make you feel bad about it.

Try out a few of these techniques and see if they keep you on track. Tweak them all you want to fit your own work style and flow. Make them your own. You’ll be hitting your deadlines in no time.

Patrick Dodd is the President of Blinksale, an invoicing app designed for the small business & freelancer in mind. He’s also an avid music guru, sports fan, and surfer.

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