How to meet deadlines

How to meet deadlines

By Thalia Thompson 09/12/13

Whether you’re project managing a team of artists or working solo as a writer, Thalia Thomspon brings us a host of techniques to help you meet deadlines, without having to pull a last minute all-nighter...

Why it’s important

Deadlines can be daunting but delivering work on time is crucial for a successful career. Freelance editor and writer Cathy Winston says, “As an editor, it surprised me the number of freelancers who seemed to think a deadline was an optional guideline. Less surprisingly, the writers I kept commissioning were the ones who got the feature in to brief and on time.”

Start with a plan

If you’ve just been given a big project, you might want to get stuck straight in, especially if it’s a tight deadline. But Michèle Lazarus, who runs project management training courses for the Creative Training Hub warns, “Planning is key to meeting project deadlines. It takes time of course, but it’s time well spent.”

Start with the final outcome and brainstorm all the individual tasks that have to be done to get there. For a low-tech approach, Michèle recommends simply writing each task on a post-it note and sorting them into a sensible chronology.  If you’d rather use an app, Trello is an online version of this idea

Estimating time

You’ll need to estimate how long each individual task will take. Be realistic here and build in some slack. “Make sure there’s always room for manoeuvre” says freelance producer and project manager Sarah Warden. This will give you time to sort any problems that arise mid project -  and you never know,  you may even come in ahead of deadline. 

If some of the tasks rely on other people getting involved, then allow extra time – just because something is a priority for you, doesn’t mean it will be for them. 

Keeping track of progress

Having a series of mini deadlines within a project will help you keep track of progress and flag up any issues early.  Use an online notebook or to do list app like evernote or remember the milk to ensure nothing falls through the gaps.

Project managing a team

“I’m a big fan of contracts with a time schedule that everyone’s signed up to,” says Sarah.  “If it’s not such a formal arrangement then at least make sure you’ve got an email that everyone’s agreed, that makes explicit that this is the plan you’re all working to.”

If you set up shared documents, using dropbox or basecamp, then the project team can all work from the same master documents.

Dealing with problems

Inevitably, there will be occasions when things don’t go to plan. Sarah emphasises the importance of facing up to problems at once and not shying away from awkward discussions. “If there’s a conversation that needs to be had, then it’s better to have it early,” she says.

Know what the problem is – and come up with some possible solutions. Perhaps the deadline could still be met if you had more people working on the project or you could deliver something slightly different to the original brief. Whatever the solution, it will be easier to find if the problem is identified early.

In Focus: Time management techniques

Productivity expert David Allan’s Getting Things Done (GTD) technique is worth a look.  His basic tenet is that the act of capturing all tasks to be done - and setting up a system to review them - gives people the creative freedom to engage fully in the task in hand.

David recommends starting with a simple, paper-based approach (such as Merlin Mann’s “hipster pda” – basically a bunch of index cards held together with a bulldog clip) although tools claiming to adopt his approach include task warrior and omnifocus

If you’re struggling to start a daunting piece of work, try setting a timer for a limited period and telling yourself you’ll just work on it for that long. Once you’ve conquered that first session, you’ll often find it easy to carry on.

In fact, using a simple kitchen timer like this was the inspiration behind the pomodoro technique which breaks down your working day into 25 minute timed sessions, each followed by a short break. You can get free online timers from mytomatoes or the ticktock timer and they can be amazingly motivating for keeping you focused.


Image by Star5112 via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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