6 smart tips for deadline work

Whether you’re assigning a project or being asked to deliver one by a certain date and time, you should be candid, specific and courteous.

We all have deadlines.

Do we all respect other people’s deadlines, though? No, unfortunately.

Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Perhaps we screw up other people’s deadlines inadvertently. A little forethought can avoid such logjams and eliminate friction along the way.

Here are a few ways to stick to your deadlines without sticking it to your colleagues and clients:

1. Be courteous: Ask before you ask. Projects and assignments are part of most workplaces, so assigning or requesting a particular task is probably part of the daily routine. That might also be true for a dozen other people with the same sense of timing. It’s wise to preface your request with, “Say, Glenda, what’s your workload today (or this week)?” Doing so conveys respect for her time, prevents you from overloading her and helps ensure that your project won’t get pushed to a back burner—or forgotten altogether. If you can let your co-worker know well in advance of an imminent assignment, so much the better.

2. Be realistic, be honest, and be specific. Candor is essential. So is an understanding that despite Albert Einstein’s brilliance about relativity, time progresses fairly consistently. When you make a request, recognize that there is no magic button to push. Stuff takes time to accomplish; creativity, especially, requires an incubation period. If you’re taking on an assignment, specify the criteria and the hard deadline.

3. Factor in a bit of wiggle room. The hard deadline mentioned above is essential, but so is offering a “nice to have by” soft deadline as a target—especially if revisions or approvals are key components of the process. If a deadline is soft, say so.

4. Recognize the domino effect. If the completion of one project is contingent on something else happening first, make sure Phase One is at least well on its way before making an assignment. Conversely, if a given project is the wellspring for a half-dozen others, make sure you emphasize that it’s a priority, and why: “Nate, once you edit this copy, we’ll pass it along for our print brochure, publication on our social media channels, translation into Finnish, adaptation for a web video and a leitmotif for our interpretive dance team.”

5. Have a Plan B (and maybe Plans C through Q). Sometimes your preferred writer or editor or designer just cannot squeeze your project into his schedule. Sometimes your colleague takes on the project and gets sick or must deal with a family emergency. Is that deadline shot? Perhaps, if you don’t have a contingency plan or two. Know who else on your staff has the requisite skills for your project, so you can hand off the assignment quickly and clearly.

6. Remember the magic words. No, not, “Bumstead, I need this right away!” A simple “please” goes a long way, as does saying “thank you.” Be precise in your gratitude, though: “Dagwood, old chum, you not only turned this around quickly, but the work you did helped me land the Amalgamated Grommets account. Thank you so much.” By the way, saying “thank you” instead of just “thanks” adds depth and sincerity to the expression of gratitude. Try it and see.

What deadline advice would you offer those on the giving and receiving ends of an assignment?

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