Oh no! It’s Thursday night and you just remembered you promised you’d have something complete by Friday at 8 a.m.. There’s no way you’re going to get the work done.
Everyone’s been there … but there are some of us struggle more than others. Whether you need help getting over that procrastination, figuring out the right organization, or sticking to a plan, here are some tips that might prove helpful.
Before you agree
Euler’s diagram is often referred to in project management where people are invited to pick two: good, fast, or cheap. The idea being you can’t have it all. If deadlines are tight, something probably will suffer. Maybe you can produce something faster and cheaper, but it’s of low quality. Maybe it’s good and fast, but it’s expensive. As you’re thinking about the deadline, keep this in mind.
1. Keep it clear
Make sure exactly what’s being asked of you. Clarify the necessary deliverables, exactly when they’re due, and if there are any intermediate steps that need to be taken.
2. Look for options and say, “No” if you have to
If it looks unlikely, figure out other alternatives and discuss them. Can the work be done differently? Can you get help? Can it be done by someone else? Does it have to be high quality? Is the deadline a hard date, requiring completion by then?
No one relishes saying, “No.” But after you’ve exhausted options, it might be the only thing left to say.
When you do have to say, “No,” let the person know up front. It shouldn’t feel impetuous or apathetic, because in reality, you’re saving all parties involved time and stress. Explain the situation, and explain that you don’t feel you can offer quality work after already agreeing to so many responsibilities.
3. Negotiate a cushion
Sometimes deadlines are set in stone, but most of the time you can find a little wiggle room, especially at the beginning of a discussion. Keep it reasonable, but always see how much time you really have so you can accommodate for surprises, unexpected delays, and accidents.
4. Understand priorities and re-prioritize if necessary
Is the new deadline more important than other work. Negotiate on other deadlines as you need, explaining that a priority item came in. Talk about how this item helps your department and the company, too.
5. Make the master list
Create and maintain a collection of all deadlines. When you receive a new deadline, break it up into action items, and estimate how long each item will take to complete. Plot each action item on your calendar in sequential order, and give yourself enough time to complete them. Setting start dates and completion dates for each item can help you measure your progress.
6. Take one step at a time
Big projects can sometimes seem so overwhelming they’re difficult to start. On the other hand, a large project with a distant deadline can give the illusion that you have more time than you really do, and make it easy to put off until the last moment. In both cases it’s important to focus on the day-to-day; don’t think about the final product. You’ve already broken your task down into action items – all you have to do is take it step by step until you reach the goal.
7. Meet your commitments
If you’ve already agreed to the deadline, it’s important to meet it. If you need help, ask for it or maybe even hire it. Re-prioritize. Check in and make sure you understand what needs to be done with your manager or the client, sharing what you’ve already committed to.
8. Last resort: push it back
Things happen. If there’s no possible way to deliver on time, notify the person you promised. The earlier you notify them, the better they’ll be able to plan for the delay, and the less upset they’ll be.
What went well? What didn’t go well? Should you have asked for more time? Was there some part you didn’t understand well enough that waylaid you? Asking for feedback from your manager and the people you had a deadline with may help you be more successful next time.
Have other ideas?
Let us know! We’d love to read them.