However you feel about deadlines, they’re a reality we have to deal with. Some deadlines are hard and externally imposed. Some are softer deadlines we’ve given ourselves and can easily renegotiate.

We need deadlines. Without them, work drifts along forever, until it’s “done”. We give goals deadlines so there’s a sense of urgency about them. Otherwise, we’d only create change when we get around to it, which ends up being half-past never.

Whether it’s for ourselves, our boss, or our client, nobody has ever complained about work being done ahead of schedule. Here are five ways you can finish sooner.

  1. Start earlier. This one is so obvious that we often overlook it. (Or we ignore it because we’d have to acknowledge our mother was right.) If it will take five hours to cook the turkey, the only way you’re going to have the turkey ready earlier is to start cooking it earlier. Quit putting it off and get going!

    Procrastination pushes back the finish line.
  2. Simplify the Definition of Done. The second way to finish sooner is to reduce the amount of work that needs to be done. Obviously, less work takes less time. This isn’t about cutting corners—you don’t want to sacrifice the quality of your results—but there comes a point in every project where the results are good enough and you’re better off moving on to the next project. Learning to recognize that point will save you tons of time.

    You can finish sooner by simplifying the win condition.
  3. Avoid feature creep. This is the flip-side of simplifying the definition of done. There is a real tendency to look at the problem and say, “we’re already doing this, so we might as well do that, too.” At a certain level, it makes sense. The more you can combine common overhead costs for two tasks, the lower the overall costs for doing the two tasks. (Your mechanic knows this well.) Be careful about sliding in one more thing that you don’t need to be doing right now. Be able to separate what needs to be done now from what you might like to slip in because it’s convenient. If you can’t, you might just be procrastinating.

    Expanding the scope of the work increases the time required.
  4. Work smarter. We’re very inefficient about many things we do. We don’t automate the repetitive tasks that our computer could do for us. We reinvent the wheel because we don’t take the time to document what we did last time. We spend too much time bouncing between contexts instead of batching and optimizing our workspace. We’re too busy doing to take the time to improve our skills—if you use a computer, learning to touch type alone will give your productivity an unbelievable boost.

    Less waste = less time.
  5. Delegate. We’re good at what we do. We want to be good at everything, but the brutal truth is that we’re not. If you aren’t the best person for the job, reassign it to the person who is. They might have the skills and resources to knock out in an hour what would take you several days. If you can break up the project reasonably, you can distribute the work and make concurrent progress.

    Many hands make light work.

Honorable mention: Look around you. You’re probably not the first person to walk this path. If you need to know what lies ahead, look to someone who’s walked the path before you. Their success will be yours if you put in the same work they did. You’ll have their failures, too. By scouting out the path this way, you might decide to forego a lot of work.

A deadline creates a temporal boundary for work: this task/project/goal needs to be done at a certain time. Why? Because we like seeing results. We want to wrap up one thing and move on to the next. We feel like we’re making progress—and we are!

As part of your plan, give yourself deadlines. If you’re going to miss the deadline, you have a tough decision to make. Either keep the task and bump something else to make room or wrap it up. Done is better than perfect.

Question: How do you keep work from growing unbounded? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.