Setting Deadlines for Yourself and Getting Things Done

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Setting deadlines for yourself and getting things done

It has been said before, but the best part of working for yourself is that you can set your own schedule and the worst part of working for yourself is that you can set your own schedule. It is hard to regulate your workflow to constantly be creating things. Especially when multiple projects are competing for your attention all at the same time.

For the past fifteen years, I have been spending my free time freelancing in one way or another. I went from making websites for small businesses to composing soundtracks for short films and video games. It requires a level of dedication and commitment of your time that is difficult to comprehend until you get way over your head.

But the worst projects are the ones you make for yourself. Personal projects often have no real scope, no due date, and often change many times during production. They tend to languish in your periphery and slowly eat away at you and your sense of self-worth. Why haven’t you finished this yet? You’ve had months to work on it, and you know exactly what to do!

Setting deadlines for yourself and keeping yourself accountable is of the utmost importance. Knowing that you have a week left to finish something focuses your mind on that particular project, giving you directed purpose for the next time you have free time.

Investing an hour or two to sit down and plan out the next few weeks or months of work can do wonders in boosting productivity. After all, you know your own capabilities best and what is attainable.

In the past, I’ve used many tracking systems. From keeping a journal, to writing daily to-do lists (transferring unfinished projects from yesterday’s list to today’s), to keeping a text file in my Dropbox so it is always synced with whichever device is nearest.

Lately I have been using Trello and I absolutely love it. Using a cloud-based organization system has really helped keep me focused and aware of upcoming projects.

I'm a bit late on this blog post, it happens!
I’m a bit late on this blog post, it happens!

Having the tab open pretty much all the time allows me to hop into any project and make notes or create additional to-dos for anything that is currently on my mind.

It also allows me to break down projects into individual steps and those steps into individual tasks.

An example of how I organize my tasks.
An example of how I organize my tasks.

This song is located inside the “Abstraction – Elemental” card above. I broke each song of the album out into a checklist and it allows me to jot quick notes down for fixes as I listen to the song throughout the day. This way, when I have free time, there is a list of things for me to do and I can get right to work.

Before Trello, I wrote all this down on a notepad I always carried with me. While this is a totally valid method for handling these kinds of tasks, I never know when I’ll get back to the song. This way, I don’t risk misplacing or losing the page I wrote all these changes on.

I do continue to create daily to-do lists. Near the end of my work day I sit down and write down all the things I want to accomplish that evening or weekend. Physically writing out my tasks greatly helps in keeping me focused on the things that I need to do. Even if it’s dumb stuff like what is for dinner, or that I need to clean my studio, it feels good to cross tasks off that list that evening!

It should be noted that allotting time for breaks is just as important as scheduling out all your projects. Having a full workload can be empowering and motivating, but being overburdened with multiple projects and impossible deadlines is a great way to get nothing done at all.

I’ve found that it is often best to pick a date in the future you want everything to be done by and then work backwards until you reach today. Break apart all those tasks and make sure they fit within the time frame you established.

For example, I want to start working on developing a small video game. I want to have a functional demo done by the end of the year. I also want to participate in the NaSoAlMo this year, so November is completely booked. I have several music projects happening up until November, which you can view in my Trello screenshot above. I worked backward from the end of the year up until now.

Since I created these deadlines for my projects, I have been much more motivated and focused. It has been easier to maintain a steady production schedule on these projects now that I know exactly what I need to do when.

Give it a try; invest an hour to think about what you want to accomplish over the next few months and plan out a schedule to get those projects done!

Do you take advantage of any other systems for tracking your progress? Have any success stories? Please share them in the comments, I’d love to hear them!

Benjamin Burnes writes music under the name Abstraction and is far too modest to have a cluster of sentences written to describe him. Given the opportunity, he would tug on imaginary suspenders and exclaim “Bah! Author synopses are completely unnecessary!” and instead suggest the editor simply supply a link to his music ( and his Twitter (@ben_burnes).

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