The cardinal sins of deadlines

If an impending project’s due date has you feeling sick to your stomach—or if you’re a serial procrastinator—make sure you don’t commit one of these deadly mistakes.

Your phone buzzes. A reminder flashes on the screen. A lump clogs your throat. You have a deadline, and it is today.

We all know the feeling of inadvertently letting something slip off our radar and then realizing it much too late. It’s not pleasant. The responsibility of meeting deadlines applies to us all, whether we’re parents, chefs, CEOs, teachers, reporters, PR pros or otherwise occupied.

My colleagues and I regularly work under deadlines for our clients: wiring press releases, placing contributed articles, drafting award nominations, creating metrics reports or submitting conference speaker proposals. Some deadlines are very tight.

There are common mistakes to avoid to ensure you beat the clock. Here’s our list of the seven cardinal sins related to workplace deadlines:

1. You assume you don’t need approval or review. Give yourself (and your colleagues) plenty of time to review, revise and/or approve the respective project. Don’t expect that no one else has to see it before it’s considered complete. It’s very likely someone does, and at the very least, it’s always helpful to have another pair of eyes on the work.

2. You call in sick the day it’s due. It’s bad enough when something falls through the cracks. Don’t make matters worse by playing hooky and letting the burden fall on others. Still, situations do arise when you are genuinely unable to work on deadline day. For those unpredictable instances, always prepare and convey the necessary steps and information so that someone else can complete the task seamlessly.

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3. You don’t ask questions. If something is unclear, it’s better to ask about it up front than to waste time heading down the wrong avenue. Review requirements at the outset, and discuss any questions with the appropriate stakeholders. Clarity is the mother of productivity. Meeting a deadline is only successful if the completed work meets its criteria.

4. You wait until the last minute to start. Some of you might still have recurring nightmares about this from your school years. Procrastination breeds panic. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time, effort and resources required to complete a given project. Start early so that you don’t wake up with dread on deadline day. There is only so much you can do in so many hours. Plan accordingly.

5. You don’t communicate the project’s status. Most likely, you have colleagues involved in the project you’re working on. It’s always a good idea to communicate the status of your work at each stage so that collaborators are informed and up to date. This also serves as a safety net: Other people can often spot potential problems that you might miss if you’re working in a silo.

6. You expect everything will run smoothly. Regardless of how optimistic you are or how much confidence you have in yourself and in others, you should afford yourself a buffer in case there are unforeseen setbacks. Set a soft deadline ahead of the actual, final deadline; that way you’ll always have extra time in your pocket.

7. You don’t create a schedule. Schedules and sub-deadlines are effective tools for staying on track. For larger tasks, try mapping out the various steps and checkpoints throughout the process. Even for smaller assignments, understanding from the outset who is doing what, and by when, makes it less likely that an important box is left unchecked when deadline day arrives.

This article originally ran on PR Daily in February 2017.

Lisa Hawes is vice president of PR at Sterling Communications. Follow her on Twitter at @LisaKayHawes.

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