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Dealing With Deadlines

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
October 1, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 40

Credit: Shutterstock
Deadlines can be intimidating but can serve as a useful organizational tool.
This is a photo of pushpins on a calendar.
Credit: Shutterstock
Deadlines can be intimidating but can serve as a useful organizational tool.

We each handle deadlines in our own way—some of us prefer to work well in advance, and others might gravitate toward the “just in time” mode. Still others create milestones, or minideadlines, to keep themselves on track.

How you handle deadlines can make or break your professional reputation because your ability to meet deadlines greatly affects how your coworkers think of you. Making sure that you are both responsible and responsive to your projects’ deadlines can go a long way toward advancing your career and helping your team function more smoothly.

Determine The Deadline. Every task or project you are responsible for comes with at least an implicit deadline. Make sure you know exactly what is expected of you and when it is expected. If the deadline appears unrealistic, make sure you understand the true scope of the assignment. In some cases, you may need to renegotiate the resources (time, materials, and personnel) assigned to the task in order to make the deadline reasonable.

Evaluate The Latitude. In some cases, the deadline request “By close of business today,” really means “On my desk when I arrive tomorrow morning.” In other cases, the request might mean, “Must be completed and entered by 4:45 PM today.” It might even mean, “I’d like to see it sometime this week.” Different companies, managers, and even projects have different cultures, so make sure you know what the deadline really is.

Critical Path. You need to understand how your task is tied to other tasks on the same project. Are there other people with projects that cannot move forward until your tasks have been completed? Or are you working in parallel so that if something holds up your piece, the overall project can still proceed in a timely fashion? Clearly, if others are waiting on you, meeting the deadline is critical.

Trim Or Miss? If you know you won’t be able to meet your deadline, should you trim part of the project and submit 80% on time, or should you continue working on the entire project and turn in a complete result that’s late? As soon as you anticipate a problem meeting your deadline, you need to start thinking about contingency plans. The earlier you discuss contingencies, the more efficiently you can focus your efforts. As a result, your coworkers will have time to adjust their expectations.

Balance Competing Deadlines. Because you will rarely be working on only one project, with only one deadline, make sure each project is moving forward in a timely manner. Even if you are working on only one project, you may want to break it down into smaller pieces, each with its own deadline.

Deadlines can be useful tools to help prioritize work and keep your project moving forward. Tracking and meeting your deadlines will enhance your professional reputation as someone who is reliable and dependable, and that will position you for new career opportunities when they arise.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network.


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