In Praise of Deadlines

By Sherry Lamoreaux

deadline“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” – Samuel Johnson

Deadlines get a bad rap. They can actually spur your creativity, if you let the “concentration” part work in your favor – and don’t get paralyzed. A few guidelines to making deadlines work for you:

Minimize distractions. When you’re under the gun – say you have a blog post or proposal due in two hours – block out as many distractions as possible. Turn off your email and your phone, take off the headset, perhaps even get out of the office and find a quiet space.

Set deadlines realistically. It’s one of Murphy’s laws that everything gets more complicated as you go. Don’t overlook allowing more time than you think you’ll need for research (on the front end) and review (on the back end). Don’t try to please others by agreeing to a deadline that you know is doomed, or that will jeopardize other responsibilities. If you’re responsible for a team’s deadline, do you have a lot of moving parts? Many dependencies? Critical pieces out of your control? Are you working with a partner in another time zone or country? Build in enough time to accommodate a worst-case scenario, and then add 15%.

Look backwards once in a while. The last time a deadline got blown, what happened? Can you manage yourself, or those factors or people, better going forward?

Get strategic help. If there’s part of a project that plays to your weaknesses, shore it up with help from someone who’s strong in that area. Many marketers tend to be right-brain creatives; if you find yourself procrastinating over a left-brain task like crunching a project’s numbers, outsource it to someone who enjoys that kind of task.

If deadlines make you choke, set your own deadline to finish a project ahead of the project’s own deadline. That way you can feel a little bit more in control. And don’t forget to breathe. Just three deep breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth, exhale with force – can help you focus on finishing that task in front of you.

But don’t set faux deadlines for others. If you have one colleague who is chronically late with their piece of the puzzle, don’t construct an artificially early milestone for that person. Find some other way to manage them to do their part on time, or assign the task to someone else.

Know what’s important. If it comes down to a crunch, and you have to choose between quality and timeliness, know which way you’ll choose ahead of time. Sometimes good-enough has to do. Remember that old saying, “Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good.”

Communicate, communicate, communicate. The more sensitive the deadline, the more important this is. Have a crisp and clear definition of your project, milestones and goals, and make sure everyone with a part to play knows what they are. Ask for status reports. Send reminders. Check in with people, especially those who tend to run late.

If you think you’re going to blow it…let everyone know who will be affected as soon as possible. It’s a terrible idea to let unpleasant news come as a surprise when it’s too late to do anything about it. And communicating may draw forth help from an unexpected quarter.

Let technology help you. Technology doesn’t manage deadlines, people do…but it can help. Calendaring technologies can remind and alert you. If you can offload some of your manual processes to a marketing automation system, you’ll save time, gain consistency, and set processes to run to the deadlines you set.

Some of us thrive under deadlines; some of us get catatonic. Whatever your reaction, there’s a way to make deadlines manageable…while still producing up to the appropriate standards.

Sherry Lamoreaux is a Marketing Writer/Editor for Act-On Software, a fast-growing marketer automation vendor. She manages the editorial calendar and writes/edits blog posts, emails, case studies, white papers, articles…any kind of words on paper or screen. She previously was the marketing director of Swan Island Networks, and Supertracks, and has written about health for WebMD and Intel. She is an award-winning playwright. Reach her at [email protected].

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