How To Never Miss A Deadline
The surprising reason for failing to manage time
The surprising reason why many of us fail to manage time, is that we only think we’re managing time. But the truth is, we usually manage people, or tasks, or both.
This is what most managers do: They make a list of tasks, then ask employees to assess how long each task will take them. Then, they set the due dates based on those evaluations.
It seems to make perfect sense. In theory. In reality, assessments are inaccurate at best. When people try to estimate how long a task will take them, they forget to take into account all the things that will go wrong. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s impossible to predict all the things that will go wrong, from servers down time to people catching the flu.
Problem is, when you manage things this way:
- It makes entire teams miss their deadlines.
- You usually find out that you won’t be meeting the deadline only after the fact, or just shortly before it.
It’s hard to manage time, because usually it’s not time that we’re managing. It’s people or tasks.
Here’s how you should manage time
1. Ask WHEN not WHAT.
Don’t say “this is what we want to achieve, now let’s put a time-tag on it.” Instead, say “this is when we want to achieve something, now let’s see what can fit into this time frame.”
Sounds strange? Think of it this way: You can build a mobile app in 12 months, or you can build a mobile app in two months. And it’s true that they won’t be the same mobile app. But, if you want to manage time, that’s the first thing you need to decide on. Do I have 12 months to build a mobile app, or do I need a mobile app in two months.
Only after you decide on your time frame, then you can figure out what amount of work will fit into that time frame.
2. Break it down to smaller time units.
What we usually do as managers, is take a big project and break it down into medium tasks, then smaller tasks etc.
Don’t do that. When you’re managing time, take the time frame you decided on — let’s say two months. Now break it down into one-month units, then one week units.
3. Check where you stand at the end of the first day.
Remember, the smaller time units from the previous paragraph? Good. Use each one of them as a meaningful inspection point. What does this mean? It means that you don’t tell someone, “work for 15 days, then show me what you’ve got.” Instead, you ask them to show you what they’ve got after the first day.
Why? Because if you set a two month deadline, you need to meet the first two weeks deadline. Two weeks is not a long time. Any little setback will affect it. So if at the end of the first day you’re falling behind, you know you need to change something to make it to the end of the first two weeks on time. Meaningful inspection points allow you to make accurate predictions about deadlines.
4. Never move the deadline.
So you checked how things are doing at the end of the first day, and you found out you’re already falling behind. Which means, you won’t make the two weeks deadline, and so you won’t make the two months deadline. OK, you say, no problem, I’ll just move the deadline by one day. NO.
Why not? Because if you move the deadline each time there’s a setback, that means you’re not meeting the deadline. That’s why you checked in at the end of the first day. At this point you’re only one day behind. So work harder tomorrow, and make sure at the end of that day that you’re back on track. If worst comes to worst, remove a task. But never push the deadline.
5. Use the time-oriented focus.
As we just said, in time-based management you never push the deadline! What you can do is help the team gain focus, double everyone’s efforts, and prioritize. This means they can’t let anything distract them. If a task is not helping someone meet the deadline, they should drop it.
And if after focusing and pushing harder you still can’t make the deadline, then prioritize. This means, remove less important tasks.
To sum it up: 5 steps to predicting and meeting deadlines
- Never push the deadline! Instead focus, push harder and prioritize.
- First set the deadline, then list the tasks that will fit into that time frame.
- Break it down into smaller time units, not smaller tasks.
- Set meaningful inspection points to see if you’re meeting the deadline.
- Never push the deadline. Focus, push harder and prioritize to meet the deadline.
Are you a team manager? What do you do to meet deadlines?
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