As a project manager, deadlines are both your friend and your enemy. Deadlines keep you focused, and help even the most organized PM (and anyone working on the project) on task towards its completion. But deadlines are also the enemy, because the closer you come to the deadline without the project's completion, the more likely you are to feel the pressure.

Deadline anxiety motivates many project managers, but it's not necessarily healthy. After all, anxiety itself is a negative experience, and if you are consistently feeling deadline anxiety, you're putting your body through a great deal of stress and increasing the likelihood of experiencing an anxiety disorder. That's why you should always work to avoid this deadline stress beforehand, looking for ways to try to keep the pressure off.

Tips for Making Deadlines Less Stressful

• SMART Goals for Resources
Most PMs are familiar with SMART goals, or at least the idea behind smart goals. Essentially, by creating smaller, attainable, realistic goals, the project manager is able to best ensure the project's completion. But many project managers still allow those whose work they depend on to work too independently, giving team members larger goals and waiting upon their completion.

The larger the goals, the more potential problems can arise. First, the project manager may not know a project has fallen behind until it is too late. Second, people have a tendency to speed up closer to the deadline, putting them at greater risk for missing it. Third, the larger the goal, the more likely the steps between each goal have errors or are completely forgotten. Getting in on time and on budget requires everyone to work at maximum efficiency as often as possible.

Giving employees SMART goals throughout the process gives them multiple deadlines and a way of tracking their progress better than using their word alone. For many project managers this sounds like part of the job, but a number of PMs rely too highly on trust and communication about progress, rather than seeing the progress itself and giving people multiple items to reach. If you know everyone on the team has completed every task before the deadline that they needed to complete, the deadline itself becomes less stressful.

• Set Early Goals
Another part of managing anxiety is setting these goals to be completed long before they need to be completed in order to reach the deadline. Once again, some PMs do this already, but many do not, instead focusing on the final deadline rather than managing a project towards an imaginary early deadline that gives extra time in case the project falls behind. Team members also do not need to know the deadline is imaginary, so that they are working hard to meet their deadlines while you are ensuring the project is coming closer to being completed on time and on budget.

• Address All Problems Immediately
Often the stress your experience closer to a deadline is exacerbated by issues not yet addressed with either the client or your superiors. Yet stress and anxiety are cumulative, in many respects, so ideally you need to reduce anything that is going to build on that stress. If a project is becoming over budget, for example, make sure anyone waiting on the project knows long before the deadline has arrived. That will ensure that you're limiting yourself only to deadline stress, not adding to the pressure from other forms of stress.

• Work on Your Personal Anxiety
Similarly, because anxiety is cumulative, deadline stress can often be exacerbated by stress you experience from other issues unrelated to work. For example, if you're having problems in your home life, and you are nearing a deadline, the anxiety you experience may be much worse than if you are better managing your personal issues. So look for any causes of anxiety that may be affecting your stress levels and deal with them before the deadline approaches.

• Write Out Worries/Write Out Positives
The mind is a fascinating thing. One thing that that makes it fascinating is how much the act of thinking can affect your personal stress levels. One way to reduce "thinking" (in the sense that you can control your negative thoughts) is to write down all of the worries your brain wants to remember as the deadline approaches. By writing down all of the thoughts floating around in your mind, your brain feels less of a need to focus on those thoughts and can turn its attention towards other, more important tasks.
Similarly, you can also affect how your brain thinks as well. Near the deadline of a project – as well as once the project is over – you can write down everything that went very well on the project. This will teach your brain to focus only on the positives, and the stress of the deadline will have less of an effect on your thought patterns.

Managing Pre-Deadline Stress

Many PMs get a rush off deadlines, but the anxiety that keeps you motivated is still not good for your mental or physical health. The above strategies may seem basic to some, but they have the potential to drastically reduce that deadline stress, and if you can avoid the stress, you'll have an easier time maintaining a good quality of life as a project manager.

Author's Bio: 

Ryan Rivera has worked on many projects and knows the stress of a tight deadline. He writes tips on managing anxiety that can be found at www.calmclinic.com.