[this post follows on from Part I]
When you make deadlines, make them realistic – don’t be the hopeless optimist or the dire pessimist. That isn’t as easy to do as it may sound. Research shows that people are very poor at judging how long a task will take, either best and worst case. Leave yourself a sensible safety margin, so that there is room for errors and unforeseen diversions. Also beware of rolling deadlines, “let’s do this in six months”. Six months later, “lets do this in 8 weeks”, then 2 weeks and so on. The vicious cycle of: 1) set deadline, 2) miss deadline, 3) set new deadline, 4) go back to #2 and repeat. You won’t feel good about yourself, and will get dragged into an unproductive cycle of procrastination.
Some of the greatest successes come from a difficult problem, with not quite enough time to fix it. It is good to be challenged – necessity is the mother of invention. If you are going to miss a deadline for legitimate reasons, then provide early warning to those who will be affected, and re-negotiate. It is easier in the long term; grasp the nettle rather than letting it brush past and sting you.
Beware of false or arbitrary deadlines. Many business deadlines are actually target dates, which are just that: a nice target to aim for. Hard deadlines should be protected with sensible target dates, which can act as buffers to protect the items dependent on that deadline. I’m not a project manager by trade, but I watch them with great interest. A good project manager has a canny ability to set target dates, manage to them and renegotiate where required. A set of skills that would serve us all well!
Once a target date is established, many people enter “set and forget” mode. Sometimes referred to as “student mode”, the dangerous practice of not thinking about the deadline again until just before it is upon you, if not shortly there after!
It is good practice to check back in on deadlines, especially ones that started a long way off. Is it actually a large project that needs breaking down into a smaller set of tasks, with multiple deadlines? You can’t climb a flight of stairs with just one leap – unless you are superman – so use steps (thank you to Trizle for that one – How to Complete Things on Time). How many people leave their tax return until the last minute? I am just as guilty as the next person on that one. Thankfully I was a little ahead this year, which was just as well, given that the on-line tax return system went down on the eve of the deadline! How much better it is to break things down into a series of deadlines and to stay ahead of them. The wonderful prospect of arriving at the final date with all the pieces in place and the preparation done! Don’t be all lastminute.com, it just isn’t fashionable any more!