Meeting deadlines

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There’s nothing like the adrenalin rush that comes with having to meet an imminent  deadline and managing to get there – just in the nick of time, sometimes by staying up all night and drinking lots of coffee and scraping past the winning post. Yes! Takes some of us back to our student days when staying up all night was the norm and forward planning a luxury we couldn’t afford.

I’ve always had a tendency to work to deadlines (or as others might say, to leave things until the last minute) – I favour the “just in time” approach to management and usually it works. I mull over what needs to be done for many weeks or days in advance and this gestation period helps improve the quality of my final output but I usually won’t actually get around to finalising the submission or the report or the tender document until the 11th hour. Trouble with my approach is when things go wrong with factors outside my control – such as when the internet connection goes down just at the point I want to send the email (note I wrote when , not if – it always seems to happen). That last minute completion of a detailed funding application or job application that needed one extra detail which is unavailable at the last minute can make all the difference between success and failure.

Working alone, the last minute approach can cause problems but working with a team makes it a system doomed to fail. Assume firstly that the deadline is real and immovable – so many people set false deadlines that can be pushed back that people generally assume there is some room for movement – if there isn’t you’re in trouble! Also make plans for how long each aspect will take and then allow a bit more – in case someone falls ill, takes an unplanned holiday, gets distracted by another priority, doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that you do….

And be aware of how your missed deadlines can impact on other people – getting papers out at least a week in advance to trustee boards means that people will have time to read and consider before the meeting. If you leave things until the last minute how can anyone be expected to give the content proper consideration?

So as with most success stories – a bit of planning and built in slack to allow for when things go wrong will always be a good idea. It may provide less of an adrenalin buzz but it will make for a better reputation, good team relationships, a more professional approach and probably a more successful track record. That said, meeting a deadline by any means is better than missing one so line up the caffeine and burn that midnight oil!