Deadlines drive your business. In corporate settings, your boss or project manager sets deadlines for you. As an entrepreneur, you are the boss, and handling deadlines yourself is an important part of making progress in your business plan. Get serious about setting and meeting deadlines to grow your business and maintain your reputation as a reliable service provider.
Importance of Deadlines
Deadlines help you improve your time management skills to make sure you get through important tasks in a timely manner. For many people, deadlines are motivators. Think about exams from your school days. The hours before the test are perhaps the most productive in terms of studying because you know the test date is set in stone. You have to be ready for it. Deadlines in business have a similar effect. When you say something needs to be done by a certain date, it adds a sense of urgency. When you work with clients, meeting deadlines has a major impact on your reputation. Constantly moving the completion date or regularly failing to meet deadlines makes you look unreliable. Late work from you delays your clients’ work. It creates a domino effect that may cause you to lose clients. Regularly missing deadlines puts you behind in your work and makes it difficult to catch up.
A deadline needs to be realistic without drawing out the work longer than necessary. In other words, don’t make the deadline impossible to meet, but don’t give yourself weeks to do a job that should only take a few days. You also need to consider the other tasks you have on your plate at the time. A simple project might take two days, but other higher priority tasks on your schedule may require you to push out the deadline for the new project. When determining deadlines, look at the amount of time available in your schedule to work on the project. Block out dedicated work periods to give yourself adequate time. As you do more work within your business, you get a better sense of how long certain tasks take you. Use missed deadlines as a learning experience so you budget more time for similar tasks in the future. Some deadlines depend on your clients’ needs and their preferences for completion dates. If a client asks for an unrealistic finish date, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Promising a date you know you can’t reasonably meet without sacrificing quality sets you up for failure.
As an entrepreneur, you probably have lots of projects going on at once with varying deadlines. Keeping all of those dates straight is a key component to actually meeting the deadlines. Consider creating a tracking system that lets you see all of the projects and their corresponding due dates at a glance. A calendar posted above your work space is an easy option. Write deadlines on sticky notes so you can shift them around on the calendar if things change. Color coding the notes keeps you even more organized by letting you see different types of tasks and their due dates. This tracking system helps you prioritize your tasks by quickly seeing what is due soon.
Sticking to Deadlines
You want to break down a project into manageable, actionable chunks with mini deadlines to keep yourself on track. Those smaller chunks make the project less overwhelming. If the overall finish date is two weeks away, what steps do you need to complete to get to that finished product? How long does each step take? Say you’re working on a writing project for a client and you need time for research, a rough draft, fact checking, editing, and a final run-through before delivery. Set specific dates for each of the phases. Plan to finish the overall project before the actual deadline to build in a cushion in case something throws off your schedule. When you actually work on your projects, remove distractions to put all of your focus on the work. This helps you be more efficient so you are better able to meet your deadlines.
Sometimes you just can’t meet a deadline without sacrificing quality. The job takes longer than you expect. Another major issue comes up that you need to address. A delivery of a crucial file or material doesn’t arrive as expected, which delays your work. Sometimes you simply don’t manage your time well and fall behind schedule. These things happen in business. Addressing the delay as soon as you know it’s inevitable is important for damage control. If the missed deadline affects clients, communicate with them about the situation immediately. Clients are more likely to work with you when you keep them in the loop. Adjust the deadline if possible to give yourself enough time to get the job done, but make sure you meet the new deadline. Multiple deadline changes start making clients wary of your ability to handle the job. Outsourcing part of the work is a way to stay on track. Try hiring a temp employee or a freelancer to handle part of the workload or to handle other work tasks to free up your time. For instance, a virtual assistant can handle administrative tasks while you work on the project. Meeting deadlines keeps your business moving forward to achieve your goals. You also keep your solid business reputation intact by delivering goods and services as promised.