Can You Deal With Impossible Deadlines at Work?
In the fast-paced world of commercial business, the ability to honour deadlines is an essential part of reputation-building. However, many employers fall prey to the twin transgressions of over-commitment and under-delivery. So how do you handle tight deadlines and maintain a high standard of work?
Whether it is a customer who needs a quick turn-around or multiple clients sign off on your quotes all at once limiting your time to work on each project, one thing is sure; you are likely to feel your stress levels rise. But with a little planning and juggling, the seemingly impossible can be made possible, so here are some tips to help you meet those intimidating deadlines and keep your stress levels in check.
Do Not Agree to Literally Impossible Deadlines
We all want to make a good impression and please our managers but agreeing to a deadline that you know to be on the very edge of impossible just to impress, is a recipe for disaster. To undertake such a task, you probably have to accept that you will be working crazy hours. We have heard of people pulling 24-hour shifts to try and beat deadlines. This is dangerous for your health. Lack of sleep will also impair your judgement and could mean that even if you do somehow meet the deadline, there will be mistakes made.
In these instances, discretion is the best part of valour. You will ultimately gain much more from communicating honestly and negotiating reasonable deadlines rather than from promising something that you know you might fail to deliver.
If You Agree to a Deadline – Stick To It
Once you have committed to a deadline, meet it at all costs. Your personal and organisational reputation will suffer if you don’t. Also, if you do not meet your deadlines, you may negatively affect the ability of others to do their jobs properly.
Your actions may have a shattering domino effect, so show your professional responsibility by getting things done on time. This is how you build a reputation as a reliable employee capable of delivering their expertise in specific timeframes.
Work in a Buffer – If Possible
It is wise to build in a safeguard for your deadline. To get a clear idea of how long a project will take, break it down into smaller milestones. If you are not sure exactly how long each of those pieces takes, then break them down into even smaller pieces. And for each piece, add a small cushion to your time estimate. Then add up the time estimates of all the pieces, and you’ll have a buffer built in. This will allow for delays, then, if you finish early, the client or your manager will be doubly pleased.
Once you have begun, try and clear as much of your work that is not directly involved with this project as soon as you can. Delegate it if possible. Once your desk is clear, you can focus on the task at hand and give your 100% concentration. In open space offices, it can be difficult to cut out distractions, but one thing you can do to make your life easier is put on noise-cancelling earphones, switch off your phone (if practical), put on some music, and simply focus on the task at hand.
In an unendingly connected world, it is next to impossible to not to get distracted by social media messages of a personal nature or fight the urge to check emails. However, these activities bring you little value and simply steal your time, effectively interrupting your thought processes and make you less productive. You would be amazed at how much time is lost each hour to social media.
Research by cognitive scientists shows that assignments often take longer to complete because of distractions and that additional time nearly always comes from the effort it takes to refocus after an interruption. When people are mentally tired, they also make more errors and are sloppy. It has also been proven that people suffer more mental fatigue when they repeatedly stop and pick up mental threads — multitasking is definitely a bad idea – especially with a tight deadline to meet!
Impossible – or seemingly impossible – deadlines do not come up that often. The key is to mentally prepare yourself for their inevitable appearance. A deadline’s worst enemy is panic as it is paralysing. Take away panic, and you are simply left with a task that needs completing. Stay focused, stay calm, and keep your eyes on the end result – and you will be just fine.