In businesses where juggling many projects at once is the norm, it can be difficult to manage the projects' multiple deadlines. Creative firms, branding agencies, and graphic designers in particular can struggle with deadlines because it may seem like the client's project is continually changing and even growing in scale.
Still, meeting deadlines is critical for maintaining positive client relationships and for building word-of-mouth buzz about your services. For those who consistently find themselves rushing at the last minute or staying way after hours just to get things done on time, here are some tips to (hopefully) keep you sane while staying on top of multiple deadlines.
Keep a calendar
This seems so obvious it deserves a loud "duh" and an eyeroll, but if you aren't recording your time in some way then you're almost guaranteed to slip or miss something at some point. You can easily keep your team in the loop with your calendar by using an online calendar service and inviting them all to be a part of it. There are scads of industry-specific online calendars or you can use Google Calendars and Google Docs for free to keep tabs on deadlines and the progress of the project.
When you are talking with your team about what the deadline is for be as specific as possible. Saying "it needs to be done by the end of the week" could mean something different to everyone on the team. Does that mean by Friday morning? By the next Monday? By Friday evening? Specific goals like "We need a complete draft of X and Y by 3:00 pm Friday" will make sure everyone is on the same page and give them a more tangible deadline to work toward.
Have you heard the phrase, "under promise, over deliver"? This is a good rule of thumb for all deadlines. Don't say you can finish a huge project in two days if you most likely won't be able to get it done on time. Your clients won't remember whatever excuse you give them for missing a deadline, they'll only remember that you didn't finish on time. Give yourself plenty of time and resources to do the job well.
Know when to say "no"
Sometimes you just don't have time to take on another project. It can be a tricky situation because, of course, you always want to be able to grow your client list and portfolio. But if you won't be able to provide your branding, graphic design, or other services to the best of your ability then it won't be worth it to take on another job. Basically, don't bite off more than you can chew!
Break it down
Turn the large deadline into multiple smaller deadlines to help measure your progress and make the whole project seem more manageable. It will seem easier to finish a large project in bite-sized chunks. For example, if you are designing a website for a client it might be useful to break down the larger project (finishing a complete working website) into smaller goals (finish the homepage by Monday, create five template options for the landing pages by Wednesday, etc.)
Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. If you have a week to finish something don't keep telling yourself that you have more time to get the job done until suddenly it's the day before it's due and you haven't even started! Likewise, if you get part of the job finished early don't think you can put off the rest of it until the last minute. Schedule you time wisely and try to be realistic about how long it will actually take to finish the task. If you miraculously have spare time, get started on the next project early!
Have a cushion
Sometimes things happen that are outside of your control. Maybe half of your team is out sick with a stomach flu or one of your vendors dropped the ball and didn't send the items you need to finish your project on time. Having a soft deadline or a cushion of a day or two before an absolutely final deadline can help protect against unexpected mishaps. Still treat your soft deadline as the final deadline if you can help it to keep from procrastinating!
Ask for help if you need it
Until the invention of time travel becomes a reality, it's impossible to be everywhere at once! Learn how to delegate tasks to team members and don't be afraid to ask questions about a project if you're not sure about something. You'll look a lot more foolish completely missing the mark on the project or forcing the deadline to be pushed back than you would asking the questions you had in the first place.
Learn from failures
Sometimes we all mess up. It's just a part of life! But every failure can be turned into an opportunity to learn and grow. If you missed the deadline, look at what caused you to miss it and come up with ways to fix any issues in your usual process and not make them the next time.
Make it work
Do whatever you can to finish on time. If the time needed was miscalculated you can try to ask your client for an extension on the deadline, but for the most part you should do what you need to finish on time and chalk it up to miscalculation you won't make next time. Remember, you would always expect your vendors to get what you need to you on time and your clients expect the same from you!
Do you have any other time management tips? Leave them in the comments below!
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