Creative Leadership

Deadlines Matter. Here’s Why:

For some reason, I’ve had a rash of vendors and business relationships recently who have missed deadlines.  So as usual, I’m on a rant.  While you might be hearing otherwise, deadlines matter, and they matter for a lot of reasons.  Here’s just a few:

1.  When you miss a deadline, you’re telling your employer or clients that their priorities don’t matter.
You’re sending them the message that your time is more important than their projects.  Even if that were true, it’s not a perception you want them to have. After all, if your time is more important than their projects, then they’ll find someone else to work for them.

2.  You’re sending your employer or client a message that you’re not organized. If you can’t hit a deadline, then something’s wrong. Either you’re incompetent, or don’t know how to schedule your time. Either way, that’s not someone I want to be in business with.

3.  Finally – it undermines your credibility. Hey – you promised that you’d hit the deadline, and when you don’t, it makes you a liar, plain and simple.

Here’s the bottom line: Sure, there are a million reasons (many actually legitimate) that cause you to be late delivering on a project.  But being late is being late – not a good thing. If you know it’s going to happen, here’s my advice:

1.  Don’t commit to the deadline.
The truth is, your good intentions don’t matter. All that matters is hitting the deadline. If you can’t do that, you’re toast.  So don’t promise what you know you can’t deliver.

2.  Let the client know the minute (or second) you realize you’ll be late. I had one vendor who was terrified to tell me he wasn’t going to make the deadline. So he’d wait until the last minute to tell me. Problem was, at the last minute, it was too late to do anything about it. So I was totally screwed. Tell the client the minute you can’t make it, so he or she can make alternative plans. Believe me, they’ll have a much better feeling for you than if you leave them hanging.

3. Finally – hit the *&%$ deadline. If it wasn’t important, the employer or client wouldn’t have given it to you. I don’t care if you don’t think the deadline is important – it’s important to the client. Do whatever it takes, but hit it. Trust me – your value to the employer or client will rise enormously, and that’s always worth it.

Be the person who everyone knows will always hit the deadline, and you’ll be working for life.

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  1. I’m going to share this with my teachers to share with their students who don’t think deadlines are important.

  2. Wow Phill,

    Hope my boss doesn’t see this… because i just missed a deadline… but there was a legimate reason. 🙂

    BTW. the website looks great!


  3. hate this…true, but hate it anyway. (aaaarrrrrrggggggghhhhh) It’s also probably the primary reason why I don’t like working with other people, because it’s usually relying on others that makes me miss mine.

    deadlines are important. deadlines are nice. triage takes precedence, so put it on ice.

    I am disorganized and a global thinker–that’s why I’m good at what I do. I’ve spent my entire life working toward deadlines and they elude me, constantly. I get truly frustrated by this (can you tell???) Even thinking about it makes me stressed. I want to make people a priority–like Jesus did–but if I want to make deadlines, it always seems like I need to ignore everyone and be snarfy and that doesn’t seem Christ-like. The people and the process are important–the journey–or so I’m told. Why does everyone make me feel so freaked out about the destination.

  4. I have to say that I feel convicted but you haven’t told me anything that I didn’t already know. It just hurts to have somebody else point these things out to me.

    Thank you for the swift kick in the butt. I needed it.

  5. From another viewpoint, I want to suggest that a culture of missed deadlines can also be a symptom, but not of what one might think. It can often be a symptom of a larger business culture problem, namely a culture wherein any person who says “no” or disagrees with irrational, impossible, and just plain stupid client/customer demands gets reprimanded, fired, or berated. Thus, out of a fear of lost business and just plain old spinelessness, many unreasonable customers get lots of “yes” answers from yes-men (and women) suppliers. What they probably need is a civil but firm “I’m sorry, but your request is unreasonable, your plan or product if flawed, and/or your time-line is impossible at the budget you’ve supplied”. In more than 30 years in production and media, I’ve seen a bit…and it is my observation that the intersection between spineless suppliers and idiotic unreasonable customers has contributed tremendously to the culture of endemically missed deadlines.

    In a related analysis, it is a good exercise to ask yourself a simple question. “When was the last time that the top man or woman in my company admitted that he/she had made an error, under-budgeted a project, picked the wrong strategy?” It is wise to examine those who live at the top of your corporate culture. Remember, it filters down through your ranks. Inability to admit error is a prime source of unreasonable CUSTOMER demands.

      1. I’d very much like to hear more insights on this aspect. Keith, your words and experience ring very true to me. Phil, if you wrote a follow-up, could you post a link?

  6. When were deadlines NOT important? That’s why they call them deadlines.
    If you miss them then you’ll be explaining why in your next job interview!

  7. Point 2 is key: let the customer know so they can plan. Along with that, I knew a former military guy who was told never admit you can’t do something because failure on your own terms is not an option, so he would say, “I’m OBE.” He got really funny, especially when repeating this in rising volume and pitch. BTW, OBE stands for “overcome by events.”

  8. Each time one of our producers misses their deadline and screws up my show, I’m going to sneak into their cube after they’ve left (probably a few hours too early) and put this on their keyboard. It will make for a good read when the AREN’T in editing NOT meeting their deadline.

    Yes, it may be a bit passive aggressive but it just may work.

  9. Deadlines are not intrinsically important to me – they’re important because its professional.

    Something that helps motivate me to hit deadlines is knowing the stakes. When I know why hitting that deadline/milestone is so important (“we’re launching this at a rally on the 9th”), it really helps me focus and priortize well.

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