Meeting a Deadline: Eight Tips

"You want it when?" We've all been there.

Here are some tips to meet your next deadline.

1. Work backwards

Get out a calendar and mark when your project absolutely must be completed. Often, the date of a conference, proposal due date, or other externally set deadline determines this for you. Then consult with each person who will have a part in the project to determine his or her time requirements: for example, printer or web developer, designer, editor, writer. They need to look at the scope of your project and give you a realistic estimate of the time involved. Work backwards on your calendar to set the interim deadlines needed to get the project done on time. And if that date was two weeks ago? On to Tip #2...

2. Know what people want

A lot of time is saved when you know beforehand what the final product should be. This will require pinning down everyone who needs to approve the project. Otherwise, halfway through the project, with the clock ticking away, the committee chair will muse out loud at a meeting, "Well, this really wasn't what I had in mind." Now what?

3. Get real

The truism is that you can have something good, fast, and cheap; but you can't have all three. Which of these three are the most important to your organization for this particular project? can have all three, but you may need to scale back the overall project.

4. Behave like honey, not vinegar

If you have maintained good relations with others in your office and with your vendors, they will help you when the crunch comes. IT people who are overloaded will find the hour to stop by your desk and troubleshoot a problem. A booked-up translator will finish the Spanish version in time to get it to the designer. They will want you to succeed.

5. Focus

If this is your priority project, make it a priority. Shut out distractions: other projects that can wait, meetings you don't really need to attend, etc. Not to be self-serving, but sometimes it pays to hire an outsider who can focus on this project while you handle other issues. 

6. Keep the review process on track

The writer has completed the first draft; the designer has handed you the comps--and then they sit in in-boxes for days or weeks. If you are the sole reviewer, provide feedback ASAP. If, as is often the case, you are coordinating the review of several others, be firm about when they must get back to you. If you give people 36 hours, most will get back then. If you give them a week, they'll take the whole week.

7. Get it in writing

Particularly if the project is sensitive, make sure reviewers sign off in writing. Then you can sweetly refer to their sign-off if a problem arises later on. (This, by the way, is why printers always require your signature before they go on press.)

8. Breathe and reflect

You made it! Before you eliminate the last month from your brain cells, take a few minutes to reflect on what worked in the process and what did not. Whom can you count on in the future? Who let you down? What would you do differently? A new project and, alas, another deadline loom just around the corner.


What are your deadline life-savers? Let me know for a future issue of this newsletter.