“This is an urgent request. Please drop everything you’re doing to meet this tight deadline.”
How many times have you heard this message from your clients? Under ideal circumstances, it can be difficult to make sure you’re always meeting deadlines. Add PPP loans, changing tax seasons, and a global pandemic, and you might feel like you can’t juggle it all.
But there is a way to successfully meet the deadline for any project. We can’t promise it will be easy, but it also doesn’t have to keep you from eating, sleeping, and living your life outside of your desk.
We have a six-step process for how to meet deadlines. Whether the project is brand new to you, or one you’ve accomplished a hundred times, this process spells out the most important touchpoints for communication and planning to make sure you don’t miss the deadline.
Step 1: Clarify the due date.
Don’t alert Captain Obvious just yet. This step is more important than you might think. In fact, it involves the heaviest lift of the whole process if you want to work as efficiently as possible.
Let’s be real. U.S. accountants survived the Great Tax Deadline Change of the 2020 Pandemic. In 2020, deadlines shifted around unpredictably, and resources were equally as unpredictable.
Wherever you live and whatever your firm specializes in, you’ve likely encountered changes to deadlines that you didn’t anticipate. You may have struggled to reorganize your calendar and allocate resources to meet the new expectations.
To ensure you know a precise due date, you can ask the following questions of yourself, your team, and your clients:
- How would you define “100% done” for this project?
- Do you need check-in points or cycles of review for this project?
- Which other projects are due on the same date? Are they more important than this project? If so, can this project be pushed back to accommodate? Or can you delegate or outsource parts of either project to ensure both are completed on time?
- Do you have all of the information and resources you need to finish this project at all, let alone on time? If not, how much time do you need to get those resources together?
- What research or education do you need to complete this project? You may not need to complete a whole course, unless the project is unusually specialized or requires more formal education. But you may need to research the latest trends, experts, or other information about the topic to be informed enough to execute the required tasks.
After you’ve satisfied as many of these boundary-specific questions as possible, you likely have a clear understanding of the real due date. It’s natural to say yes before fully exploring all that you’ll need to satisfy your client, team, and self with a completed project. But there is a better way.
Pro Tip: Remember that you have the power to say no and to move deadlines as needed to commit to what’s in everyone’s best interest.
Step 2: Collect all of the tasks.
Now that you’ve identified all of the expectations for the project, you should have a list of all tasks and milestones that the project requires. In this step, you’ll input all of the tasks into your project management tool of choice.
Whether it’s a written checklist, a spreadsheet, or a workflow software, keep all tasks related to this project in one place.
Step 3: Communicate deadlines to your team.
If you have employees or contractors to whom you can delegate work, this is the time to communicate the scope of the project with your team. Whatever your team looks like, make sure you establish boundaries to avoid possible scope creep. This will help you to ensure a best fit for each assigned task.
You may also take note of additional resources or education you may not have identified in your initial project conversation in Step 1. These items are added tasks that should be included in your greater project plan.
Pro Tip: One shortcut for delegation is to assign work in Jetpack Workflow. Assigning work to your team members is easy and flexible! You can even mass-select jobs and tasks to delegate multiple to-do’s at once in just a few clicks.
Step 4: Prioritize and plan.
At this point, you should have a skeleton of a schedule for the project, including the final due date and milestones you need to hit. The fourth step of this process requires you to organize each part of the project in order of priority, then add each task to your calendar.
You might find that some tasks actually aren’t necessary and can be dropped. Alternatively, you might discover more items that you didn’t think about earlier in the process. Both situations are totally normal, even for firm owners with many years of experience with similar projects.
After assigning priority levels to each task, it’s time to put every task on your calendar. Creating due dates for each step of the project helps you to see how much time it will really take to get to the end goal. It also holds you accountable to get each piece done in the order needed so you can wash your hands clean of the project when it’s all finished.
For a deeper dive into this step, check out our blog post on how to prioritize tasks.
Step 5: Account for roadblocks.
Now, for the part of the process we like to forget: accounting for extra time in case something goes wrong. Enter the nearly- or already-missed deadline.
No matter how many years you’ve been the subject matter expert on this project, you’re unlikely to have encountered a project without any roadblocks. This is where breathing room in your schedule comes to your rescue.
The Truth About Roadblocks and Energy
We believe you: you’re unbelievably busy. You may feel overwhelmed, especially with piling-up and shifting deadlines. At one point, you may have felt like this is an awesome problem to have, “I have too many clients wanting to pay me for my services.” Maybe some of that enthusiasm has fizzled out over time.
But in order to transform a firm into a sustainable, growing business, you have to maintain your own health and time boundaries. You may work some long nights and weekends for a while, but at some point, your human body will need a break. #Burnout
How to Use Blank Space on Your Calendar
If you’re willing to evaluate your true capacity and stick to all of your promised yes’s, then you’re ready to bake in some blank space in your calendar.
Here are some ideas for how you might use this blank space if you actually don’t encounter any roadblocks:
- Attend to a family matter that comes up, or one that you don’t want to miss.
- Catch up on administrative tasks that would help your automation.
- Corral your clients for information they still haven’t sent you.
- Coach your team or ask for feedback about your leadership.
- Take a course in a subject that will grow your skills.
- Take a nap. (We promise we won’t tell!)
- Dance to your favorite song.
- Go for a walk or run, hit the gym, or take a class online or in your favorite fitness studio.
Chat with your team. (We love weekly hour-long fika breaks to remember why we love working together. You might not obsess about coffee as much as we do, so spend this time how you want to.)
Otherwise, you might need this time for roadblocks related to this project or others. When roadblocks come up, communicate your needs as soon as you’ve identified them. The longer you sit on a roadblock, the less likely you are to receive the help you need to still meet your deadlines.
Step 6: Celebrate your success.
Your team has worked hard on this project. You may have learned a lot along the way.
Maybe one thing you learned is that you actually disliked providing this service, so you’re not going to take it on again. Or the flip-side: You really enjoyed this project, and you’re ready to up-charge for it to future clients.
However you’re feeling, take the time to celebrate the completion of this project. Especially celebrate when you meet the deadlines that greatly impact your business and your clients’ need for your services.
BONUS: Collect deadlines and work all in one place.
Want help for making it easier to meet deadlines? Try out Jetpack Workflow for free for 14 days, and keep all of your clients, jobs, tasks, and team communication in one place.
Thanks to our Zapier integration, you can also connect your other work apps with our system so you have fewer manual tasks to do for each project!