Deadlines are the special sauce of productivity for vast portions of the population. For students and workers alike, it is the deadline and the looming fear of missing it that spurs them into action and makes them work faster and faster as the deadline approaches. But this approach to work is stressful and inefficient, leaving people constantly unhappy and anxious. Instead of leaving work to the last minute and living under the constant stress of looming deadlines, break your work down into mini goals, working to positive rewards instead of negative pressure.

With the New Year just setting in, let your goal for this year be to work toward your goals and not deadlines.

The Problem of Deadlines

Deadlines keep people productive through negative encouragement. Miss the deadline and you’ll face consequences. Meet the deadline and you’ll have met only the minimum expectation. This is enough to keep most people working, but inefficiently cramming the work in at the end after stressing for many unproductive hours, days, or weeks.

Relying on deadlines is bad enough in school or when working for others, but if you work for yourself it is downright disastrous. Because you set your own deadlines, the negative consequences for missing deadlines are not nearly as strong. You always know, even if you try and shove the thought away, that because you set the deadline you can reset it. Only when the landlord comes calling do the negative consequences really start to pile up.

The Power of Goals

On the other hand, goals keep people working through positive encouragement. With each goal you meet there is a burst of satisfaction, a reward that will encourage you to work more, to get right back to work on your next goal. Goals, like deadlines, can have set end dates, but goals differ by giving satisfaction on completion instead of the simple consequence of meeting deadlines. With each goal completed, you get to cross one item off your list. With each goal completed, you gain the satisfaction of a job well done.

Don’t just work at things as they come. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Don’t kill time till the panic sets in. Get to work now by making a plan and attacking your work with a reasoned, comprehensive approach, clearly setting out everything you need to get done. Laying out goals in a planned way lets you get down to work without having to think about what you need to do next. All you have to do is look at your list and begin.

The Power of Subtasks

Break goals into subtasks to extend the power of positive reinforcement beyond large goals. For instance, if you have a report to write, break it down into research, outline, and writing. If you have a sales target to meet, break it down into smaller, more manageable sub-targets. With every small subtask completed you get a new item to cross off you list, giving more frequent rewards and satisfaction.

The Daily Reward

Organize goals and subtasks into daily to-do lists. Unlike long-term deadlines, daily goals keep you in the present, with clear motives and tasks. You can’t fob off daily goals on to tomorrow’s you. They must be tackled today or you will feel the dissatisfaction of not crossing every item off your daily list.

You don’t have to do everything in a last-minute panic. Stay ahead of the game while cutting stress and work anxiety with planned goals and subtasks. Make your work satisfying, positive, and productive instead of relying on the negative pressure of deadlines to get things done. Make 2019 a successful year by working toward goals and not deadlines.