The only thing that annoys me more than someone missing a deadline for something they owe me is being late for a deadline myself. The number one rule of business is reliability, and yet, for some reason, deadlines seem to come and go with great ease for many.
Missed deadlines cause difficulty for everyone involved. They create stress for the team and reflect poorly on the offender. Miss enough deadlines and it can cost you clients, advancement, and profits. No one knows the world of deadlines like writers, so here are some great tips from Inc.’s stable of deadline practitioners.
1. Use the Theatre Approach
When I trained in theatre, I worked on over 150 productions. Every one of those productions had a non-negotiable deadline. Over the years I have seen contracts extended and execution dates missed, but I have never known a show not to go up on opening night.
Somehow, some way, we got the job finished. One technique was to triage the quality of work required to complete the task. Here is a brief scale:
Done Is Good
At this level, quality is not the primary concern, so you can get it done the best you can.
I am not the greatest craftsman, but I could build and paint well enough that the audience wouldn’t see my imperfections from a distance. Some projects need to have good substance and communication, but no one will get upset over a grammatical error here or there.
This requires the highest level of scrutiny. Only a few situations such as medicine, engineering, or airplane maintenance require this level of focus. But when the details matter, give yourself the time and resources to make it happen.
Once you know the scope, you can constantly reassess the project along the way and assign the appropriate energy and scrutiny required to complete the job on time, no matter what.
2. Start Now
You know that feeling of dread you get when you’ve put something off, and put something off, and now starting it seems impossible? Flip it around: Get some kind of start right away. Not tomorrow, not next week, but as soon as you take on the project. That builds momentum, gets you past the dread, and gives you a chance to figure out if you have questions, need more information, etc. Nothing is worse than calling someone the day before a project is due and saying, “Um…I think I’m missing some stuff,” and therefore showing the recipient you put off their task until the last minute.
—Jeff Haden, Owner’s Manual
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3. Do Whatever it Takes
My best tip for being punctual is to be ready to do whatever it takes to make a deadline when necessary. As a professional writer, my life is ruled to great degree by deadlines. Sometimes, despite working hard to meet a deadline, I’m not quite there when there is just a day or two to go. In those cases, I get my coffee machine fired up and burn the midnight oil—working through the night and focusing on my task. I invariably meet the deadline (and then take a LONG nap afterwards).
—Peter Economy, The Leadership Guy
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4. Build in Time to Make It Playful
If anything slows me down, it’s stress. It can stifle my creativity, cloud my judgment, and block my ability to structure a project. When potentially stressful projects come along, I know I have to approach them with a playful attitude, or face the possibility of failure. So, I connect activities that I enjoy to the creation process, like long walks in the woods. During my walks I might formulate my new speech or create the outline of my next class, for instance. I’ll record the highlights and let the pieces fall together later at the office. I also enjoy mind mapping, discussing my ideas with friends over a glass of wine, and working in a different environment, like a local hotel lobby or a new cafe.
—Marla Tabaka, The Successful Soloist
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5. Schedule Slip Time and High Level Reviews
Every project manager knows that project timelines grow to meet the time allowed. To make sure items are delivered on time, I schedule a due date that is one week prior to the actual date I need a given deliverable with a series of reviews for sign-off during that week. This extra time allows for editing and fine-tuning if something is off. If a deliverable slips past my due date, I know that I can ask that a review to be performed more quickly to make up for it. Whenever possible, I make the reviewer(s) someone higher in the organization to provide a greater sense of urgency about making the scheduled date. When a deliverable is particularly important, I schedule specific time with the reviewers in advance. The team knows that we can’t miss the review window unnoticed and without consequence.
—Eric Holtzclaw, Lean Forward
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