5 ways to make dealing with deadlines a breeze

By Caroline Butterwick,
updated on Feb 5, 2024

5 ways to make dealing with deadlines a breeze

Don’t let the stress of deadlines overload you, try these tips

Whether it’s at work, in education, or just regular life admin, deadlines are a part of life. And for many of us, they can bring a whole load of stress. For some, procrastination can mean we leave things to the last minute, but even for those who try to tackle things sooner, deadlines can still fill you with dread.

Here, we look at how you can deal with deadlines in a way that works for you.

Understanding procrastination

“Sometimes, if there is a further off deadline, it’s easy to feel that you have loads of time and to decide to focus on things that are more enjoyable than your task – until suddenly you don’t have loads of time anymore, and panic floods in,” says counsellor Nina Jellinek.

“Even with a task we feel we can do, and don’t dislike, it can be hard to start,” Nina says. “We might not know where to begin, or even where to start thinking about it, so we avoid it. Then it can become a snowball effect: we have put it off, now we have less time, are feeling increasingly worried, and all this makes us avoid the task even more.

As Nina explains, this can take us to a state of complete overwhelm, where we feel unable to do anything. “I talk to a lot of people who get frozen with anxiety about something they need to do. They put pressure on themselves, and then the stress is also often increased by the worry that other people might see them as lazy or unmotivated. When we are in this situation, we are not lazy. We are overwhelmed and feeling totally stuck.”

Understand your working style

One of the best ways to help you deal with deadlines is to understand your working style.

“Look at what, if anything, has worked for you in the past,” advises Nina. “Even more importantly, look at what has not worked. Doing the same thing that has not worked before is not likely to help now!”

Nina recommends trying to not compare yourself to others – we all have different ways of working and processing tasks, along with different life stresses and support systems.

“When you recognise how you normally do things, look for even small ways to tweak your style a little to reduce the impact of the stress,” Nina says. “For me, I realised years ago that I tend to leave some things to the last(ish) moment, so now I tell myself the ‘last’ moment is the day, week or month before the actual last day, to give me some wiggle room in case I need more time than I think I do.”

You may find that working with someone else helps motivate you, even if you’re working on different things. Choosing a work environment that is comfortable and inviting can help, too.


To-do lists

Some find to-do lists beneficial. Nina suggests having three: the first is a priority list, ‘I really need this done’; second is an ‘it would be useful but not as urgent’ list; and third is an ‘it would be nice but can wait’ list. Focus on the first one and only look at the others if you have the energy.

“Some people prefer to start with the worst task to get it over with, while others prefer to build up to that task by starting with something else,” Nina explains. “No one style is right, but it is good to recognise what works better for you.”

While looking at these tasks, consider if you know what to do. “Do you need guidance?” says Nina. “Remind yourself that it is OK to ask, even if you have left it later than you feel you should have. If you don’t know what to do, it is going to be pretty stressful, so it’s better to bite the bullet and check out any questions. If verbally asking is hard, maybe send a text or email.”

Breaking down a task

It’s common advice, but it really can help to break down a task into small chunks so it seems more manageable.

Nina suggests planning to work for 15 minutes max. Suddenly, the goal is less threatening. “There’s always the chance that, once you have started, you might get into a groove and decide to keep going,” she says. “But if you don’t, at least you’ve achieved what you set out to, and this could reduce the guilt reaction.”

Facing the blank page

Don’t worry about making your first try perfect – you can usually improve on it later. “When I am really stuck on a writing task, I throw lots of words at my computer without worrying about whether they make sense, or about the order of the thoughts, and then I can hopefully organise them better later,” says Nina.

This is certainly helpful if you find staring at blank page intimidating, as getting something down is a great starting point, and gives you something to work with.

Soothing the deadline anxiety

“Allow yourself to aim for ‘good enough’, rather than a perfect job,” says Nina. “Good enough is much more achievable, and changing this mindset might reduce the pressure.”

It’s vital to take care of yourself, so make time to relax. “You are more important than the deadline,” Nina emphasises, so do what you can to deal with tasks while remembering you matter.

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