Meeting Deadlines without Dying

It may seem counter-productive, but one of the key ingredients for a more productive work life could be to not work. Not indefinitely of course, but there is evidence to show that taking regular breaks will improve productivity.

Look after yourself

Because so much is said about procrastination and work ethic, we somehow get the impression that the only positive way to work is to be busy all the time, because if we’re not busy, we’re lazy. But stress and burn-out are becoming more and more prevalent worldwide. In countries where it isn’t mandatory to take a lunch hour, employees often decide not to take a break, because that means wasting precious work time. You may even be a culprit if you work from home. If you’re disciplined enough to completely separate your workday from the rest of your life, that’s great; but as your own manager you need to be responsible for giving your most important employee (yourself!) the break he or she deserves.


You need to adhere to strict office hours when you can. Unless you have to work overtime (paid, and only once in a while), no-one’s going to be impressed if you’re the last one to leave the office. Essentially, your performance should be measured by the product you deliver, and not by the number of extra hours you’ve spent working. If you’re a freelancer, giving yourself office hours is important. It may feel contrived, but working long hours on a constant basis could lead to burn-out, despite the number of breaks you’re giving yourself in between. So, if it can be helped, do not overwork. See how you can use your working time more efficiently before you resort to stealing hours from other parts of your life.

The Focus Booster App

It’s been proven that it helps to take breaks, but often we get so caught up in our work that we forget to take these breaks. There are a variety of ways to solve this problem, but personally, I recently found a nifty little computer application that functions as my time-keeper.

The Focus Booster App is based on the Pomodoro Technique for time management. Essentially, you decide on the task that needs to be done and then how much time you’re going to take to do that task. After the allotted time (they suggest 25 minutes) the alarm goes and you have five minutes to take a break before you may proceed to the next task.

If this feels too much like school, consider using the Focus Booster only for a day or two, just so you can get an idea of how you utilise your minutes. Every time the alarm goes, write down what you did in the last 25 minutes and at the end of each day you’ll be able to see where and how often you lost your focus. Taking a phone call or sending a quick email may only take a minute, but all the minutes add up and interfere with your productivity. You might find that it’s more productive for you to allocate a 25-minute time slot especially for those “one-minute” tasks.

Say “No” to saying “Yes” too often

You can’t give what you don’t have – it’s that simple. So if you can’t afford to take on another project, say so. Being a people-pleaser does not make you a martyr, it makes you a sucker for punishment. You need to ensure that you give yourself enough time for each project.

Granted, sometimes a client desperately needs you to write something in a very limited amount of time, and you may need to set aside other work to attend to this project. If this happens, and you can afford to interrupt your other projects, don’t be shy to increase your price for this one project if you’re a freelancer. You’ll probably be working after-hours to hand it in on time, and as your own employer you need to ensure that you get paid what’s due to you.

Internal Deadlines

Besides being organised and taking regular breaks, there is still the reality of a deadline that needs to be met. Some tasks don’t have a deadline, or the deadline is way in advance. This is where your self-discipline needs to come in.

Give yourself internal deadlines and show yourself the same respect you give to clients by meeting those deadlines. You can divide the project up and set deadlines for each part of the process, or you can set your own deadline, besides the official one, that forces you to file your story a few hours (or maybe even days) in advance.

When your official d-day is looming, you don’t want to race against time. In fact, time shouldn’t be a factor at all. Ideally, you could hand in a piece of work without experiencing any stress or pressure at all. And if your client receives the story ahead of time, you’ll look professional and in control. Wouldn’t that be the kind of person you’d hire yourself?

In Part IV of the Journalism: Tips for Time Management Series, we’ll have a look at some solutions for procrastination as well as the importance of prioritisation.

About the Author

Samantha Moolman is a freelance writer and editor who is currently responsible for the Family Life articles in Your Baby magazine.

Samantha also works as an assistant lecturer for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Journalism.


Photo credit: flickr.com_Ben Husmann