How many of you can relate to: “I create some of my best work while under pressure.” Or “This won’t get done without a deadline.” “We need this new (logo, website, print project, [insert deliverable here] YESTERDAY”.
The problem with deadlines that most people have is the stress that comes along with them. The classic scenario is when a particular deliverable has multiple levels of management responsible for it along the way. For example, take a typical presentation pitch deck. It’s Monday and Mr. CEO has an opportunity to email a pitch deck in PDF format to a potential client. The client has suggested the deck arrive to them by Friday, so of course the CEO wants to send the deck by Thursday. The CEO needs a first draft of the deck by first thing Tuesday so that he can give himself a day to practice it and then send his comments to the copywriter and designer by first thing Wednesday. In order for the deck to be reviewed in first draft form by Tuesday, the template has to be designed and the story has to be flushed out (and often illustrated with stock photography) by EOD (end of day) Monday. It’s 2pm. The fun begins. It continues up and until Thursday EOD. Ahhh. Good times.
We promote our design company as “Startup Specialists” and in this economy and in this climate its sink or swim for anyone with a new idea and an opportunity to present it. We don’t expect our clients to let any opportunities slide by and neither will we. However, that doesn’t mean we have to ‘kill ourselves’ to meet every deadline that passes our way. Recently, we dropped everything we had going on and dedicated an entire day to a project which was an opportunity to pitch to a high-profile, billion dollar global brand. The deadline was same day – EOD. The client needed the following elements (which didn’t exist) mocked up:
- a webpage (homepage layout)
- a print activity page or teacher’s guide page
- an email blast or overall activity kit
- a digital activity page (for computer or Smartboard use)
Additionally, we were required to develop a branded PPT (PowerPoint) template which included several options for the title slide.
We met the deadline and the creative was well received both by the CEO and the client. No sooner did we receive the positive feedback were we informed that the deadline for the meeting had been pushed out. We now had an additional two weeks to continue tweaking the presentation. Did we blow a gasket? No, we delivered and it was well received. Mission accomplished.
So what’s the danger of always saying ‘Yes’? The real issue is that your clients will come to expect that turnaround and now a Rush is no longer a Rush but rather it becomes the standard turnaround time. While you don’t want clients crying ‘wolf’ all the time, there is something to be said for being able to manage expectations and knowing when a fire is a fire and when someone is just fanning the flames (for no good reason). The good news is that often the deadline can be a great motivator and it often brings out the best in you and your team. You’ve heard the analogy that a a diamond is created from coal that is under extreme pressure and extreme heat. Great. But let’s face it, we’re not in the business of having heart attacks either. You’ll be no good to anyone if you’re in a constant state of panic, trying to please everyone and scrambling to deliver everything as fast as humanly possible. You’ll start making mistakes, you’ll lose sleep and you’ll build resentments. It doesn’t end well.
The good news is that a deadline can be your friend. It can identify the end of a project that has been weighing over your head or causing much anxiety. It does signify that it will soon be over, and a new project can begin. It also means that its time to invoice (cha-ching). It’s all about looking at it positively and learning how to dodge the deadline traps – the false alarm deadlines that can actually hinder productivity.
Here are some tips on handling deadlines and easing stress:
1. Negotiate with Clients: How HOT is it?
Everything can’t be HOT. If everything is HOT then what’s not? I mean before you agree to turn around something within 24 hours, try offering a standard turnaround time. At a minimum we request a 1 week turnaround of a given task or project. 1-Week is our Preferred Client Standard. If we can, we’d prefer a Standard 2-Week turnaround. That gives us time to juggle our schedules. Anything less than 1-Week and you’ve got a Code Red and you need to start bumping other projects. For same-day or 24-hour turnaround times, you’ve really got to look into other variables: how valuable is this client, are they on retainer, could this opportunity have a huge impact on future work load? Ask these questions but remember, most things can wait until tomorrow. Chances are this can too.
2. Keep a List of Deliverables
Log every aspect of the project. Make a list. Create a Production Schedule and factor in time for client feedback. Perhaps there is a portion of the project that is hotter than another. This could be part of the time negotiation process. Perhaps the entire project doesn’t need to be done by the same deadline. Try breaking it down into smaller chunks, or delegate parts of it throughout your team, this way you may very well be able to get the job done, without the added pressure – and your client is happy.
3. Keep the Plates Spinning
This is one of my favorite ways to manage deadlines. Keep all your clients engaged by completing some of these ‘chunks’ and delivering them as you complete them. This way you can use the time the client needs to get back to you with feedback as time that you can use towards another project. The worst thing you can do when you have a client or clients that are under pressure is to keep them waiting too long. By delivering SOMETHING you are keeping the ball rolling, you are showing that attention is being paid, and progress is being made. My old boss used to always check-in and say “I’m not holding you up am I?”
4. Can I Buy a Vowel (Time)?
Needless to say, despite your best efforts, there will be times when you’ll have to reach out to a client and push a deadline out. Things happen and it’s not unheard of to ask for an extension. Part of the reason you push out your original promised deadline is so that you can avoid this very thing. Alas, it may happen, and when it does, you’ll be surprised to know that often times clients will be completely OK with it. Just don’t abuse this one…. as clients shouldn’t abuse false deadlines. Touché.
5. We all deserve a Life.
Point is that it’s very rare that there is a particular project in progress that should warrant you neglecting your health, your family, or your friendships. If you find yourself constantly pulling all-nighters you are doing something wrong. Either you are too much of a control freak to delegate some of your tasks to your staff or to an assistant, freelancer or consultant, or you just aren’t managing your time wisely. Usually, the only time I find myself pulling an all nighter these days is if I want to play hooky and take the afternoon off the following day to play golf. That doesn’t really count as high pressure, because I’m creating it myself. Its not the client’s fault if I choose to work on a job at 3am, especially since usually I’m rewarding myself for it if I am. By the same token, there’s no reason you should miss meals, lose sleep, or neglect your family because you have ‘too much work to do’. That is a luxury problem. In this economy, if you are having this problem, then you need to hire someone to help you that could use the money. Stop being so greedy, let go of the wheel, and get a life.
I know, I’m being harsh. I gave myself a 5pm ET deadline for this blog and it’s 5:22pm. 😉
Ramon has over 19 years of experience in award-winning, market-proven, print collateral, marketing material, iphone/ipad app and website design specializing in corporate identity and branding. Ramon’s passion for entrepreneurial design was borne out of 10 years as Creative Director for Jay Walker at Walker Digital, the Stamford based idea laboratory and business incubator holding over 300 US Patents. Ramon served as Senior Art Director on the start-up launch team behind Priceline.com, a Walker company and invention. Most recently, Ramon’s logo and identity work was selected to be published in “Typography and Enclosures” the fourth book in the Master Library series by LogoLounge.
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