Not meeting deadlines can spiral into project or career failure. Yet deadlines are one of the most vexing pieces of the time-management puzzle. But there are ways to manage your deadlines, according to Jeffrey Ford, co-author of Deadline Busting.
Five Deadline-Busting Tips
- Create and Maintain a Due List of All Deadlines: Write down any promised result, communication, product or service -- even the things that don't have specific due dates but are due sometime. "We have found that this is one of the single greatest stress reducers, because it shows you everything due to others," Ford says.
- Plan and Schedule Your Work: For each deadline on your due list, identify the action items (tasks, communications, research, etc.). Put these in order and estimate how long each will take. Then transfer this information to your schedule or calendar. "Even when I do just a little work on an assignment, if I know that according to the schedule the day's work has moved me closer to completing the article, then I've got nothing to be anxious about," explains Duncan Murrell, a freelance writer and editor in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
- Negotiate Due Dates: Most deadlines are not set in stone, so propose alternatives if necessary. This gives you more control over when things are due, enables you to meet more of your deadlines and creates less stress. "I always look for a little wiggle room," explains Benson Shinn, a legal temp in Seattle. "The key is to sound reasonable, not whiny or plaintive. And if you don't get your way, you just have to stud up and try to meet it anyway."
- Learn to Say No: Sometimes deadlines are utterly unworkable. When this happens, it's better to say no up front than to accept the assignment, fail to do it and then make an excuse for why you couldn't get it done. "People won't remember how good your excuse was, but they will remember you didn't do whatever you said you would do," says Ford. "Although there may be some stress in telling someone no, it is nowhere near as stressful as the worry associated with not doing what you said you would."
- Ask for Help: "Most of us do not like to admit we're having problems or that there is something we don't know or can't do," Ford suggests. "Too often, when problems arise, we become like turtles and pull back into our shells pretending things are fine." If you're crunched for time, ask other people to do specific things that will help you pick up the pace.
Missed-Deadline Damage Control
What if, despite your best efforts, you miss the deadline? "Keep working, albeit a little faster," Murrell says. "Make no excuses unless your excuse is you're in the hospital. Give them the earliest possible time that you can have the project ready, and meet that deadline. Do not blow the second deadline."Articles in This Feature: