How many times have you been under stress and nervous trying to meet a project deadline?
We all know that deadlines are crucial for a project’s success and without a set deadline you would have no direction or motivation to do anything.
Unfortunately, a lot of projects keep struggling due to delays, missed deadlines and lack of follow-up.
When a project slows down or fails, the damage is huge: it means – in most projects – wasted money and precious hours of work spent for nothing.
If skipping the project deadline becomes a habit, if you find yourself in a hurry to try to catch up at the last minute, then you need to redefine your way of working by making changes to your work scheduling system.
To understand how to do it, you need to start with their purpose and utility.
Why are deadlines important?
Generally, deadlines are set for one of the following reasons:
- To ensure a job completion: it’s easy to delay or forget a task that doesn’t have an established end point. Deadlines therefore help to avoid this situation.
- To support a smooth workflow: deadlines help to work collaboratively to achieve a shared goal and to keep complex, multi-step projects on track.
- To set expectations: deadlines clarify what is to be delivered and when. This way you can take control of the work, without any fuss.
If a deadline is missed, there can also be serious consequences.
On a personal level, this can affect the reputation and career prospects of those who fail to meet deadlines, especially if this happens more than once.
In addition, it can also be extremely damaging at the organizational level because it can trigger complaints and active negotiations. Missing a deadline can have an impact on an organization’s reputation and can also have serious financial consequences if this delay triggers other delays or even a penalty clause in a contract.
6 key steps to meet project deadlines
Here are 6 key steps to help you schedule your project deadlines in the best possible way:
- List all the activities and stages of the project.
Write them as action sections instead of loose, generic sentences; this will help you find additional motivation.
- Choose a realistic deadline according to the complexity of the work to be carried out.
Firstly, you should not make the mistake of setting a deadline that cannot be met. You must analyze the complexity of the work and estimate a reasonable amount of time to complete it. If you are not capable of completing it on your own, you can always ask for the help of someone who has already done the work or who knows the processes better.
- Schedule and set up deadline notifications.
If the deadlines are not scheduled and logged somewhere, chances are you will not remember them. So, using a calendar tool to plan your tasks and milestones so that you receive notifications for each one, can certainly help you keep your goals on track.
- Add a reasonable “buffer” at each expiration date.
By buffer we mean extra time that becomes useful in case of delays or problems that could lead the project to a sudden stop or slowdown.
- Work with a reliable partner.
Whether it is the project manager, a team member, a client or a stakeholder, having a partner can motivate you to meet deadlines on time.
- Focus on only one task at a time.
Multitasking may seem beneficial, but having to think about so many things at once can lead to feeling worn out and having organization issues. The key is therefore to focus your time, effort and attention on only one task at a time. After completing it, ticking it off the to do list will motivate you even more to move on to the next task.
What happens if, again, you don’t meet a deadline?
Notwithstanding the tips provided in this article, despite hard work and far-sightedness, it could still happen – again – to miss a project deadline.
If this happens, it is important to stay calm and make every possible effort to limit the damage.
The first step is to keep stakeholders up to date on progress during work, highlighting any problems that may delay – or are already delaying – activities and pointing out any potential emergency and risk management plans.
This will help people involved will be more likely to understand the situation if they ultimately fail to meet the deadline, and some may be ready to help.
In this situation, it is best to quickly address the problem and agree on a new deadline.
Also, a project review is necessary to identify what went wrong and to prevent it from happening again, even in any similar projects in the future.
Still, not meeting a project deadline may have broader implications.
For example, as previously mentioned, if you work with a client or an external organization, the delay could lead to a financial penalty or damage the reputation of the employee and/or the company in a serious way.
Still, it is important that those who failed to meet the deadline take responsibility, avoiding finding excuses and worsening the situation.
When this happens, the best thing a professional can do is to accept the mistake and learn from experience.
Ultimately, deadlines should not be seen as a rope around your neck getting tighter and tighter.
With a pragmatic mindset and the right strategies, such as those outlined in this article, you will be able to better manage your deadlines.
This way you will not only have a clear improvement in the quality of work, but also the ability to manage stress.