How to Set a Deadline

Do you need to set a deadline for an upcoming project or assignment?

Are you looking for tips on how to do so in a timely manner?

You’re hesitant about setting a deadline.

Just how do you get started?

Do you simply pick a date out of the air?

Or do you close your eyes and place your finger randomly on a date on a wall calendar?

How do you know if you’ve even selected a worthwhile date?

In this post, you’ll find several tips to help you set a deadline for a project.

Follow these tips the next time you’re feeling stuck, hesitant, or unsure when it comes to setting a deadline for yourself.

Review your current project or assignment.

The first thing you need to do when it comes to setting a deadline is to thoroughly review your current project or assignment.

Namely, for what do you need to set a deadline? Is it a work, school, personal, or home-based project?

You may find it helpful to give your project a specific name. This action will give the project a bit more context in your mind.

For example, you might decide to name your upcoming volunteer birdhouse construction project at work, “Build bird house.”

Once you’ve got your project name in hand, you’ll want to list out all the different tasks you’ll need to complete in order to finish the project.

At this point, you don’t have to worry about the order of tasks. Simply jot down tasks so you can refer back to them. As soon as you’ve written items down, you can organize tasks to your heart’s content.

So for the above example, you might organize tasks as follows:

  • Research bird house templates online
  • Select bird house template
  • Prepare material shopping list
  • Shop for tools, wood, glue, and paint
  • Prepare wood for cutting
  • Cut wood into shapes
  • Assemble bird house
  • Let glue set
  • Paint bird house
  • Let bird house dry

Evaluate other external factors.

No project or assignment is an island. Wherever and whenever you work, you’ll be influenced by external factors.

These include such things as the weather, the availability of people, materials, and information. Don’t forget to factor in the time it will take to deal with these external factors as you review your assignment or project.

From our example above, you might locate the hours of the lumberyard or hobby store, whether or not you’ll be able to work outdoors to paint the bird house, and so on. You can make note of these external factors in your task list.

Give tasks individual deadlines.

Now, you’re going to give each of your tasks their own deadlines.

The idea here is to break the project into smaller bits of work. Again, be sure to take into account the external factors you’ve determined above.

Feel free to give yourself more estimated work time than you think you may need. This is especially true if you are new to a particular project. Chances are your work will take much more time than you think it will take to complete.

From our example above, you might come up with the following:

  • Research bird house templates online – Saturday
  • Select bird house template – Sunday
  • Prepare material shopping list – Sunday
  • Shop for tools, wood, glue, and paint – Monday
  • Prepare wood for cutting – Tuesday
  • Cut wood into shapes – Wednesday
  • Assemble bird house – Thursday and Friday
  • Let glue set – Saturday and Sunday
  • Paint bird house – Monday
  • Let bird house dry – Tuesday and Wednesday

Calculate a deadline.

Based on your work above, all you have to do now is calculate the length of time between the start and finish date of your project. Just add up the bits of time you’ve designated for each of the individual tasks.

If we look at our bird house example, we’ve planned at least a week and a half to complete the project. With this in mind, we can choose a specific date a week and a half in future for our deadline.

What if you’re feeling a bit nervous about finishing your work on time? You can double, triple, or add-on any other buffer of time you’ll need to finish your work.

For example, if you’re feeling anxious about completing your bird house project in a week and a half, you could make the deadline three weeks, instead.

Don’t forget to do your work.

Breathe a sigh of relief and kick up your heels. A deadline date has been set!

While that’s an achievement in and of itself, you must complete your work in a timely fashion in order to make your deadline.

Review your task list on a regular basis and put in a little bit of work each day.

You’ll slowly, but surely, work towards your deadline.

How about you? What gives you the most difficulty when it comes to setting a deadline? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

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About the Author


Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based productivity consultant who helps entrepreneurs manage their time and energy so they can reduce stress, work less, and make more money in their businesses. She has been featured in Fast Company, NBC News, The Washington Post, Business Insider, NPR, Huff Post, Fox Business, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.


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