Setting deadlines for yourself

Femke van Schoonhoven
5 min readNov 14, 2015

You have so many things on your plate. So many things you’d like to do — wish you could do — yet somehow you struggle to execute them. Either you can’t find the time, or you’re too easily distracted by Netflix or Twitter.

Time — something we all wish we had more of yet it can never come true.

Instead of wishing for more time, I wish for myself to get better at prioritising and managing the existing time that I already have for myself. This occasionally means saying no to social events or other chores. Saying no, gives you the power to say yes to something greater.

It’s likely that you have deadlines when working with clients (and if you don’t, you should). Deadlines increase your productivity and motivate you to work harder.

Did you read that? They motivate you to work harder — not faster.

Deadlines aren’t put in place to make you rush, or work at lightning speed. They’re put in place to allow you to carefully plan. If a deadline is forcing you to rush and you feel you’re running out of time, that’s poor planning or estimating on your part. It’s your responsibility to ensure that deadlines are set to an achievable and attainable date. Planning should lead you to be smarter about allocating your time, forcing you to work harder to reach the project goals.

If deadlines work so well for client projects, why not set deadlines for yourself?

Setting yourself a deadline is more than just setting yourself a goal. A deadline is a tangible, hard line. It’s a date, a commitment that you make to yourself. A deadline involves repercussions if not met and can influence the achievement of your goals.

A goal however, can be achieved at any time — with no repercussions. You either meet it, or you don’t. Setting a deadline on your goals can not only help motivate you to work harder, but also lets you enjoy your successes and helps position you better for the following deadline.

As an entrepreneur or freelancer, setting yourself deadlines for your side or internal projects will increase your output and productivity level. Let’s take a look at how you can use deadlines to do this.

Deadlines hold you accountable to not only yourself, but to others

If you’re launching a new product, podcast, newsletter — whatever it is — put up a landing page with a launch date. This will help you start collecting email addresses, gauging interest and build your audience. You may not necessarily be actively working on that thing yet, but putting a deadline up shows you will be working on it and that you’ve made a commitment.

A deadline can be the motivation and encouragement you need to not only start a project, but also launch or finish it.

Are you part of a mastermind group? Start setting goals for what you want to have achieved the next time you meet. Share these with the group and then follow up with one another the next time you meet. There’s a great (quick) episode of The Freelancer that talks a bit more in depth about the value of having a mastermind group.

If you have a deadline, share it with someone. Find an accountability partner and ask them to ask you for regular updates along the way. Schedule regular checks ins, allow yourself to reach out to that person when you need a second opinion or to re-evaluate your direction. Document your progress along the way in a journal or forum.

Having an accountability partner one of the best ways to encourage you to meet your deadline. This could be your spouse or a friend in the industry.

Setting a deadline helps you move forward

You need to be creating consistent output for your audience. Blogging each week? Have a newsletter that you need to send out once a month? Create a deadline for when you need to have the draft and final content ready. Then, create a calendar appointment to remind you 7, 3, 1 day out. Block out a piece of time in your calendar to work on that thing so you know you’re giving yourself enough time to meet the deadline. Create yourself a checklist, breaking down the tasks to make it more achievable.

Without setting deadlines, your to do list is going to pile up. Before you know it it’s going to seem unachievable and overwhelming. A deadline helps you prioritize and shift your focus to the next due task. If you find that setting a deadline to a big task isn’t helping you move forward or begin working on it, break the task down into sub tasks. For example:

Launch a podcast — Due 30 November

This is a pretty big tasks and involves multiple sub tasks such as buy equipment, record shows, edit shows, creating artwork, set up a landing page. Here’s a look at how my to do list for launching a podcast stands as of this minute.

You’ll notice there are a couple items overdue. That doesn’t mean we’ve failed or aren’t going to do that thing. That just gives me an opportunity to follow up on why that task didn’t happen and re evaluate. I then refocus my attention and priority on the overdue task(s). In this case, I know that designing the website has to be my number one focus and priority before any of the other items on that list.

You may find that some of the sub tasks rely on other sub tasks. For example, ‘build the website’ may rely on the web design, or choosing the CMS first. Create deadlines for each individual task to keep the momentum of the project moving forward.

Be realistic and optimistic

Giving yourself an unattainable deadline isn’t going to make you complete the task any faster — if it does, it’s almost guaranteed that you sacrificed some of the quality to get it done in time.

It’s important to challenge yourself, but don’t set an unattainable deadline. This will only cause stress, anger and disappointment. If you’re unsure of what a deadline should be for a project or task, be realistic and optimistic.

Set a date that creates a challenge for you, but that’s still achievable. Setting a deadline for ‘launch a blog’ to December 2016 isn’t going to motivate you to start working on it any time soon. However setting a date of ‘1 February 2016’ should get you to start thinking about breaking that down into sub tasks with individual deadlines, to ensure you achieve the task.

I bet you have a million things on your to do list, or at least an idea of something you would like work on in the near future. Write it down and put a date on it. You don’t have to share it with anyone, just yourself. Stick it up on your wall or in your notes app — wherever. Start thinking about how you can achieve that task. What subtasks are hiding in there that can be split out? When will you realistic have time to work on this? What level of quality would you like it to be and thus how much time would you like to spend on it?

Once you’ve chosen a deadline, share it with someone. Make this person your accountability partner and ask them to check in regularly with you to see how you’re progressing.

Before you know it, you’ll be outputting more frequently than you thought you could.

Did you enjoy this post? I write a lot about digital product design, productivity and content. Subscribe to my mailing list to receive new thoughts straight to your inbox.

Originally published at on November 14, 2015.



Femke van Schoonhoven

Kiwi in Canada, Product designer at Uber, Podcasting at @DesignLifeFM, Videos about design: