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MacKay: Approach deadlines with a professional attitude

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • February 5, 2012 - 6:16 PM

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 each person meets his or her 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. Whether you're the boss or the employee, it's valuable 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 making 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. Hammer down the results: What do your clients 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 down the task. 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 have to achieve and 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 probably will be willing to pitch in if you explain the circumstances and the stakes honestly.

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 because they help organize time and set priorities. They also make a person get going when he or she might not feel like it. Meeting deadlines motivates people to continued successes.

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.

Life is full of deadlines. We either learn to work within them, or we get a reputation for being chronically late or undependable. Try explaining 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.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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