It’s closing in on 5:00 p.m. and you’re still hard at work on that project with an end-of-day deadline. We’ve all been there and we all know that most of the time, rushed work isn’t high quality work.
Successfully meeting deadlines is something that starts in the planning phase of a project, and if you fail to do that, you’ll find yourself scrambling at the risk of getting subpar results.
See "Your Office is Annihilating Your Productivity: 5 Ways to Stop It" for more tips on how you can manage your time and meet deadlines.
But with some purposeful planning, these four steps will help you keep your next project on track so you can make deadline with time to spare and be confident in the final product.
1. Set Goals and Determine How You’ll Measure Success
When you take on a new project, it’s essential that you start by setting a goal and determining what success will look like.
In a recent webinar, Jess Ostroff, CEO of Don’t Panic Management, said, “You can’t know whether a marketing project was successful if you don’t know what you’re measuring against. So, every single thing that you’re doing for and leading up to that marketing project must be measured.”
Regardless of the type of project, you can’t know if you are moving in the right direction—or succeeding— if you don’t set goals.
Ostroff also explained that measuring efforts can help you improve processes: “And of course, if something doesn’t go well, you want to evaluate that and do it differently next time so you can be more successful in the future.”
Tracking improvements and setbacks will also come in handy when it comes time to report on your project to your manager or company executives, who want to know if resources are getting results.
With specific goals and benchmarks in place, it’s much easier to keep a project on track so you’ll meet the final deadline. You’ll know exactly what needs to be happening and when, so you can avoid last minute cramming.
2. Use Creative Briefs and Start With Goals, Not Tactics
One common reason for missed deadlines is having to incorporate feedback and requested changes from stakeholders or clients after a project is submitted.
You’ve worked long and hard on a project, go back and make requested changes, send off a “final, final draft” after the deadline, and realize it looks nothing like your original final product.
This problem can easily be remedied, saving you time and frustration, so you can turn in a final product—that everyone’s happy with—by deadline. The secret? Creative briefs.
Originally used for things like content production and graphic design, creative briefs have become crucial for all kinds of teams. Acting as a sort of outline, or project plan, creative briefs give you direction from the beginning and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Nick Scholz, solutions marketing manager at Workfront, refers to the endless cycle of drafts as a “tale as old as time” and says that strong creative briefs can keep your team focused on a project and create mutual understanding, so everyone works toward the same goal.
Speaking about the need for creative briefs, he said, “They act as the central reference point where both your team and your client can refer to the details of the request and reduce any delays that result from too many reworks.”
3. Get Your Whole Team on Board
Teams work better when everyone understands the process, goals, and purpose behind a project, and getting everyone on board is essential to meeting deadlines.
This may be step number three, but that doesn’t mean that you should wait until the later stages of a project to get everyone on board. In fact, Ostroff recommends working as a team from a project’s inception to set goals and complete creative briefs.
She said: “I think you should always have your goals set up with a smaller team, first. But once you have the goals, you can create the creative brief with your team members in mind. That includes what each element of the project is going to be, what each deadline is going to be.”
Finishing a project on time is nearly impossible if you don’t account for team members’ own schedules and workloads. When you work together to set timelines, you can be more realistic and plan to work around obstacles to meet deadlines.
Scholz said that while it can be hard to bring a team together to plan a project (especially when everyone is ready to get to work), “it is totally critical to making sure that you get the most out of the work that you’re doing; that you avoid rework and that you have everybody on board.”
To make sure you can meet deadlines from the very beginning, gather stakeholders together to compare projects, deadlines, conflicts, and blockers before you start any work on a project.
4. Take a Tool Inventory and Eliminate Excess Tools
Do you ever feel like you spend so much time switching between project management tools, to-do lists, emails, spreadsheets, and other apps that you can’t even get to your project?
You’re not alone. For our 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report we asked 2,001 enterprise workers which tools they use to manage their work. They answered that they use a wide variety of tools from email and spreadsheets to instant messaging and handwritten lists.
We use so many tools that we are probably creating more work for ourselves.
To streamline your processes and make it easier to meet deadlines, assess the tools you use and pare down to simplify your work and give yourself more time to dedicate to your project.
Scholz said that having too many tools is just as bad as having too few, and that too many tools creates a “patchwork” that isn’t efficient and that will lead to “broken, complicated workflows” which make it hard to be effective.
To combat this, he suggests, “You’ve got to determine which of those patchwork solutions only address one aspect of the entire workflow, which tools are outdated, and then identify any tools your team isn’t using or hasn’t completely adopted.”
Ostroff thinks that sometimes, companies are too quick to jump on new tools and oftentimes hold on to ineffective tools for too long:
“I think too many people are using the next shiny thing just because they saw it. Or…they’re keeping tools on for too long and they’re not really using them anymore, but they are getting bogged down by them because they think they’re supposed to be using them.”
She suggests testing new tools before implementing them across an entire team or department and “if you can find something that takes the place of two or five tools, you should always do it.”
Eliminating excess tools and fully adopting one comprehensive work management tool will help your team members work better together, stay organized, avoid distractions, save time, and meet deadlines.
These four steps are crucial to meeting deadlines and if you use them on your team, you’re less likely to spend your evenings and weekends in the office.
To see the full webinar that these insights came from, watch "10 Marketing Hacks to Deliver Work On-Time, Every Time" featuring Jess Ostroff and Nick Scholz.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner