Meeting Deadlines - think backwards
Many of us are involved in meeting deadlines for one thing or another. As a business manager, my deadlines were largely associated with getting competitive proposals and reports in the hands of customers that needed them.
To achieve this, I would think backwards from the point when I had to drop off the document to the carrier (the objective), and then assign times to each of the processes (steps involved). If you start doing this, you'll soon realize how little time you have to finish a large document in a single day.
Let's assume you're working on a proposal or technical report that is 100 pages or more. It won't take much time to drop it off at the carrier, but let's work backwards from that "end point" to see where we have to be with various tasks in order to meet that deadline.
If you start thinking backwards, you'll see that meeting deadlines involves a number of smaller deadlines along the way. This works with any kind of task or project. Let's just use a proposal or technical report as an example.
Assume we spent a few days writing the rough draft and the previous day making a round of edits. Now, we have to get it out the door today, and we know it will take all day because we worked backwards with our planning as shown below.
- Package needs to be in the hands of the carrier at 4:45pm (allowing 15 minutes to fill out paperwork and wait for others in line)
- Start packaging documents by 4:00pm (based on 30 minutes to package and 15 minutes to get to the carrier)
- Assembly and binding needs to start by 3:15pm (this allows 45 minutes to assemble the large package)
- Copying needs to start by 2:30pm (that allows 45 minutes to make all the necessary copies of the document)
- Final edits by 2:00pm (to allow 30 minutes for final word processing)
- Final draft out for review by 12:30am (this allows 90 minutes for a comprehensive review and final edits)
- 2nd round of edits made by 10:30am (to allow 2 hours for updating the document to a final draft)
- Editing starts at 7:30am (to allow 3 hours for reading and editing the 2nd draft of the document)
This example might be a little tedious, but you get the idea. Meeting deadlines requires that you know what needs to be done, you know all the steps required to do it, and the time required for each step.
If you read the bullet item list backwards, it gives you the sequence of events during the day. It fits neatly into a single day, but until you work it backwards from your final objective, you won't have a good idea when the final work should start. In our example, it's an early start at the office that ensures success that day. If there were fewer staff on hand to help, or we had a larger project to complete, it could require starting the effort on the previous day.
Meeting deadlines is important for various tasks. You could lose out on an opportunity because you didn't "show" on time. You could disappoint a customer who was expecting a deliverable. The list goes on and on.
For tasks that are recurring, meeting deadlines won't become easier, but estimating the effort will. You'll tend to get a better feel for how much work is involved with each task once you've done it a few times.
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