Deadlines. We all face them, and they can make for a very stressful and anxiety-ridden time. Even the most organized and systematic among us will occasionally face deadlines that make us stay up late and get just a little bit worried that this may be the one we miss.
But the adrenaline high doesn’t always have to result in late nights, lots of coffee and fear of missing the mark. Here is a 7-step process I follow in order to ensure I can meet deadlines on time, with a great result.
Step 1: Get Clarification
Before even agreeing to any type of project deadline, be sure you are clear on the client’s expectations. Many times, clients don’t always know what information you might need or what variables in the project could change the scope entirely. So it’s up to you to ferret out those details. Ask directed questions to get to the specifics, and don’t move on until you are confident that you know what you’re getting into.
Step 2: Come to Agreement
Once the specs of the work are clear, put everything in writing. It can be your standard independent contractor agreement that outlines the details, or you can create a project plan that shows what will be needed for each part of the project. Make sure you get the client to sign off and confirm that they understand their role in meeting the deadline.
Step 3: Work Backwards
Now that you have the set deadline, deliverables and responsibilities outlined, you need to start attaching the time dynamic to your plan. Start from the end and create milestones to measure progress along the way. You will still have some large chunks of complex work, but the milestones will further define the most important checkpoints of the project.
Step 4: Break It Down
Going back to your project plan, take a look at the deliverables you have outlined leading up to each milestone. Break all of those large complex chunks down into small tasks and assign responsibility for each one. Each of your tasks should outline an individual action. For more task list tips, read: To-Do Lists: 10 Tips for Increasing Productivity.
Step 5: Give Yourself Extra Time
Surprises, changes and problems always pop up when you least want them. By allowing a little extra time for each part of the project, you have the flexibility to shift the timeline as needed. Allowing for extra time also gives you a chance to work at a pace you’re comfortable with instead of being in frantic mode for the entire project.
Step 6: Go Step-by-Step
If you’re working on a large project with a lot of moving parts, it can be overwhelming to look at the big picture, and you may find you have a difficult time getting started. So once you’ve created the timeline for work, put away the full view until it’s time for a project check-in. Instead, focus on each individual task on the list. Working methodically like this will help to keep you on track and avoid focusing on the vast amount of work there is to be completed.
Step 7: Keep Everyone in the Loop
Create regular checkpoints for the project, so your clients know when to expect a status update and never lose sight of the progress you’re making. Having open lines of communication with frequent check-ins is even more important if you’re working with subcontractors and/or other providers. Everyone should be working from the same timeline, task list and project information.
At the end of the day, there are always factors outside of our control that can derail our steadfast path to the deadline, but when you are able to retain control, following these steps can help you meet deadlines more consistently and with a lot less stress.
How do you make sure you meet deadlines and nothing falls through the cracks?
Image credit: Sanja Gjenero