It’s the Monday morning staff meeting, and the week’s urgent projects are on the agenda.  Plenty of assignments for everyone:  some that involve a few quick phone calls, and others that will require overtime.  How do you make sure everyone meets their deadlines?

When you’re up against a hard deadline, it’s important to know which staff members work best under pressure and who needs breathing room.  And whether you’re the boss or the employee, it’s important to set a stellar example of respecting your clients’ needs and keeping promises.

A company that ignores deadlines is a company that ignores success.  The same holds true for the individuals in that company.

Meeting deadlines shows that you take your work seriously and that you value other people’s time.  Even outside of work, the ability to keep your promises on time shows your commitment to doing the right thing.  Here are some important tips for hitting your deadlines:

  • Start with specifics.  When exactly is the deadline?  Clarify whether “end of the week” means 5 p.m. Friday or first thing Friday morning.  And hammer down the results:  What does your client want?  How will they measure your effectiveness?
  • Negotiate.  Is the deadline realistic?  Try not to accept an assignment that you know you can’t complete on time.  Suggest alternative dates, or work out what other tasks you should put on hold in order to give the deadline the attention it deserves.  Be careful not to make promises you can’t keep.
  • Break the task down.  Take a look at what’s involved, and identify the individual steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal.  Lay them out on a calendar in step-by-step form so you know what you’ve got to achieve, and you can monitor your progress.
  • Get started.  Don’t procrastinate on step one. Focus on beginning without getting overwhelmed by the number of steps or the magnitude of the task ahead of you.  Work begun is half done.
  • Build in a buffer.  As you schedule your work, give yourself a cushion of time—mark the due date a few days ahead of the actual deadline, for example.  This will help you deal with changes or last-minute emergencies.
  • Stay in contact.  Let whomever you’re accountable to know where you are on the project.  He or she will feel more confident about your abilities, and you’ll be able to alert the powers that be about potential roadblocks before they become full-blown crises threatening the deadline.
  • Enlist assistance.  If it’s not a group project, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Your co-workers will probably be willing to pitch in if you explain the circumstances and the stakes honestly.
  • Don’t over commit.  Learn to say no if you know you can’t finish on time.  You won’t be a hero if you let people down.

One of my favorite sayings is, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”  That statement has three parts:  1) the goal, which is what I want to achieve; 2) the dream, which is what I think I can do; and 3) the deadline, which means I will accomplish what I set out to do.

When all is said and done, I like having deadlines.  They help you organize your time.  They help you set priorities.  They make you get going when you might not feel like it.  And meeting deadlines successfully motivates you to continued success.

As an author, I face deadlines every week with this column.  If I don’t submit it on time, my editor lets me know that the calendar isn’t a suggestion.  If I want to continue writing it, I must respect their time restrictions.

In my business, I know my customers depend on me to deliver their envelopes on time.  I make volunteer commitments that have accompanying deadlines.  To me, my golf tee time is a deadline.  I respect the course’s schedule.

In short, life is full of deadlines.  We either learn to work within them or we get a reputation for being chronically late or undependable.  Try to explain repeated missed deadlines to your next employer.  Because your current employer may have a deadline for replacing you.


Mackay’s Moral:  Respect your deadlines or your customers will reject your company.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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