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Deadlines: love ’em or hate ’em, they’re a part of life we can’t escape. How many times have you had that sinking feeling, knowing that time is running out and you’re nowhere close to completing your tasks? If you’re searching for a reliable guide on how to keep track of deadlines, you’ve landed on the right page.
In this article, I’ll share 10 different ways of tracking deadlines, as well as some tips I learned over the years that will help you meet them every time.
Once you find a system that works for you and get used to it, deadlines become less of an enemy and more of a roadmap to success.
Whether you’re swamped at work, drowning in assignments, or juggling personal projects, my tips will help you never forget a deadline again!
Why is it important to keep track of deadlines?
Deadlines are more than just dates on a calendar or notifications on your phone. Let’s see why they are important:
- Building trust and reliability: Consistently hitting those deadlines places you as a trustworthy individual, contributing to your reputation. Whether it’s in the workplace or among friends, you become the person people can count on.
- Improving productivity: Having deadlines front and center helps you prioritize your tasks, allowing you to focus on important work instead of just making yourself busy.
- Eliminating stress: The dread of a looming deadline can spike your stress levels. When you are proactively tracking deadlines, stress and anxiety are replaced with confidence and calm.
Now that we’ve covered the importance of deadlines, let’s move on to some easy ways you can track them!
10 ways to keep track of deadlines
1. Online planner
The most common way to manage your tasks and deadlines is with a digital daily planner.
There are plenty of pretty planners out there that can help you manage projects and keep track of tasks, but not all of them are particularly good with deadlines.
You need a planner that allows you to set due dates for each task, as well as for the whole project. And the one I would recommend for this is ClickUp.
For example, if you have a report to turn in, a call to make, or some specific errand to take care of by a specific date, you’ll add a task with a deadline in ClickUp, as shown in the image.
But you might also have a work or study project with a list of things that go into it and a due date to finish it all. Or even just a time-bound personal project, like a list of things to do before Christmas.
ClickUp allows you to set the due date for the whole list so you can continuously see the progress and plan your workload accordingly.
ClickUp is one of the few powerful task managers I know that still offers a free plan. (Taskade is another good one.) With multiple visualization options, project phases, and checklists, ClickUp makes it really easy to keep track of deadlines.
2. Calendar app
I used to just put all my important dates into my Google Calendar and have a widget on my phone’s home screen so I could see the upcoming deadlines every day.
But if you have a lot going on, say, multiple assignments, appointments, or simultaneous projects, a calendar can quickly become cluttered and overwhelming.
Your phone’s native calendar app, like iCal or Google Calendar, can be a great start, but if you pair it with an app like Fantastical, you’ve got a solid life management system that takes care of deadlines for you.
Fantastical integrates seamlessly with your basic calendar and takes it up a notch by adding features like tasks and advanced reminders. You can sync it across all your devices to always have your deadlines within arm’s reach, wherever you are.
3. Accountability app
Even with the best deadline trackers, not everyone has the discipline or motivation to do the actual job before the due date.
Sometimes we need that extra push or, ideally, ongoing support, and that’s where accountability partner apps come into play.
The app I’m personally using to track my deadlines and goals with added accountability is GoalsWon. It pairs you with a human coach who checks in on you every day, helps you break down your goals into daily steps, and provides daily guidance and motivation so you meet your deadlines.
As a business owner, I don’t have a boss, a manager, or a teacher, so I’m setting my own deadlines, and this external accountability is invaluable.
Each day, I check things off my list in the app, get feedback from my coach, and track my progress toward monthly targets.
4. Goal tracking app
If you have a team and are looking for a more professional way of tracking deadlines and everyone’s progress per project, look at smart goal-tracking tools like Tability.
This tool focuses on outcomes rather than just tasks, making it a unique platform for keeping an eye on those deadlines.
Tability is powered by AI and actually helps you set SMART goals and generate action items automatically based on the desired outcome.
You can set long-term goals, and the app will prompt you and everyone on your team to update your status regularly. It also integrates well with Slack, allowing you to share your progress with a team.
The focus here is continuous improvement and steady progress toward a project goal, which aligns perfectly with the objective of meeting deadlines consistently.
5. Paper planner
Even though we live in a digital era, for many older people, it’s still easier to stick to things that are carved on paper.
And by older, I don’t mean old! As a millennial, I’m kinda in between generations, and even though I’m a techie with a degree in software development AND a productivity blogger, I’m still guilty of using pen and paper occasionally.
In fact, this is the first year I didn’t buy a paper planner! I started guided daily planning with Sunsama, and it went so well that I gradually ditched my paper system altogether for the first time in my life.
But up until this year, I was using (and loving!) paper planners for decades, and ordering the most aesthetic one every year was a pleasing experience by itself.
Don’t underestimate the power of putting pen to paper! A physical planner gives you the tactile experience of writing down your deadlines, which can reinforce your memory.
Plus, having your week or month visually laid out in front of you can offer a unique perspective on how busy you are and what needs immediate attention.
6. To-do list
Depending on your lifestyle and the things you need to track, a full-blown project management software might be an overhead for you.
If you need a simple but effective way to keep track of deadlines, look into to-do list apps. The one I’ve been using for 5+ years is Todoist, and I haven’t seen an app yet that could match its intuitive UI and simplicity of use.
Todoist is a minimalist task manager with powerful shortcuts that allows you to add tasks quickly and set deadlines in natural language.
In Todoist, you can create multiple lists, categorize tasks, set priorities and deadlines, and more. They also have a Team plan for small teams who don’t want to overcomplicate the process.
When it comes to deadline management, the app will send reminders as due dates approach, keeping you on track without the mental load of remembering every little detail.
If you want web-based reminders, make sure you allow notifications for the Todoist website so your browser doesn’t block them! Otherwise, you might miss them.
A well-organized spreadsheet can be a lifesaver when it comes to tracking multiple deadlines. If you are old school and a master of spreadsheets, you don’t have to learn another system if you don’t want to!
Just create a spreadsheet where you list all your tasks and deadlines. I like to use formulas to color code the dates – for example, make the cell red if the deadline is close. There is no limit to creative ways of visualizing your deadlines in spreadsheets!
You can customize it to include project names, stages, priorities, and, of course, deadlines. Make it as detailed or as minimal as you need!
Whether you want to create graphs or color codes to represent the urgency of tasks, or just have a list of tasks ordered by due date, find a system that works well for you and stick to it.
8. Wall calendar
If you are a visual learner and have enough wall space, there is another option that proved effective for many people in tracking deadlines.
Having a physical calendar hanging on your wall can serve as a daily visual reminder of all your deadlines, milestones, or even important birthdays or appointments you have to remember and prepare for.
You can choose either a monthly or an annual layout based on the nature and dynamics of your projects.
You can use different colors or markers to indicate various types of deadlines – be it work, personal, short-term, or long-term – and keep it in a place you’ll see every day.
9. Countdown app
A countdown app on your phone or a browser extension like Momentum can add an element of urgency and excitement to your deadline tracking.
Every time you open a new tab or check the app, you’re greeted with how much time is left for your next deadline. It’s a great way to keep the pressure on, in a good way.
10. Fridge calendar
Yes, even your fridge can help you keep track of deadlines!
A magnetic calendar or a small dry-erase board on your fridge serves as a constant, hard-to-ignore reminder every time you’re grabbing a snack or meal.
This low-tech solution is especially useful for household or family-related deadlines.
Important tips for tracking and meeting deadlines
Now that you have various tools and methods at your disposal for tracking deadlines, let’s talk about your approach. Having the best tools means little without the right strategies to use them effectively.
Here are eight crucial steps to ensure you’re not just tracking deadlines but also meeting them!
1. Keep them visible
Whatever system you decide on – be it digital or paper-based – keep it in a place where you’ll regularly see it. Out of sight often means out of mind, so keep those deadlines where they’re hard to ignore.
For example, keep a tab with an app always open, add a calendar widget to your phone’s home screen, or keep a physical planner on your desk at all times.
2. Reduce friction
Whether you’re at home, in the office, or on the go, make sure your chosen deadline-tracking system is easily accessible.
Regardless of your system, it should be super easy to reach so you can write down a due date or time you agreed on right away instead of leaving it for later and forgetting about it.
The harder it is to update or check, the less likely you’ll stick to it and the less effective it will be.
3. Set reminders
As David Allen, a world-known productivity expert and author, once said, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Your memory, by definition, is not reliable, especially when juggling multiple deadlines.
Let technology “remember” for you and use that mental space for creative work instead!
Most good planners and task managers have a way of reminding you about deadlines. Make sure to learn it and use it so you are always prepared!
Set up reminders that alert you days or even weeks before something is due. This will give you enough time to tackle any last-minute issues.
4. Check-in regularly
The frequency of your check-ins – usually daily or weekly – will depend on the nature of your work and the deadlines you’re facing.
In any case, just adding a task to the list is not enough to get it done. Otherwise, all New Year resolutions would always be met…
Consistency is key here. Regularly review your goals and due dates, update your status, and adjust your action plan as needed.
5. Plan ahead
Tracking deadlines is important, but planning for meeting them is even more important.
If you just set a deadline, even with a reminder, you’ll still be stressed and anxious when you are suddenly notified that it’s on the horizon.
To avoid this, create an action plan upfront so you know exactly what needs to be done and when in order to meet that deadline with ease.
6. Break the tasks down
This tip builds on top of the previous one. Large tasks that require weeks or months of work have a tendency to be overwhelming and lead to procrastination.
Make them manageable by breaking them into smaller tasks, each taking no more than a few hours. If it’s longer, try to break it down even further.
Attempting small tasks instead of huge ones reduces mental resistance and makes it easier to start. And each small thing checked off your list brings you closer to meeting the overall deadline!
7. Prioritize and estimate
Not all deadlines are created equal. Some tasks will naturally be more important or time-sensitive than others.
Assign priority levels and make an educated guess on how much time each task will take. For example, Sunsama lets me estimate each task and then track how much time I actually spend on it.
Estimating the tasks helps you understand the workload and not put too much on your plate, setting realistic goals instead that are more likely to be met.
8. Plan for the unexpected
Life is full of surprises. When you’re setting deadlines and creating your plan of action, always account for some buffer time to manage unexpected delays or obstacles.
Never assume that everything will go according to the plan. Life doesn’t work that way.
In project management, it’s common to use the three-point estimation technique where, besides the expected time for the task (your best guess), you also set an optimistic (best case scenario) estimate and a pessimistic one (in case of delays, blockers, or unexpected roadblocks.
No one said managing deadlines is a walk in the park, but it doesn’t have to be a sprint to the finish line, either.
You now have a repertoire of tools and strategies that can turn even the most daunting deadline into a manageable milestone!
As you implement these strategies, you’ll find that deadlines transform from being stress-inducing to success-inspiring.
So get started, keep refining your process, and you’ll soon notice that tracking deadlines and planning your work properly makes your life a lot less painful!