Life and work are full of deadlines, but few things are as unpopular as setting or receiving a deadline. Particularly for managers and employees, deadlines can almost feel like a punishment – as though neither side trusts the other. This kind of relationship with time management is unhealthy for productivity and employee morale, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Changing the conversation about – and relationship with – deadlines is a big step toward greater productivity and team effectiveness. To help, we’ve put together five tips to help you get more done in 2018 with smart, effective deadlines.
Use the SMART Goals framework
SMART goals have been around for decades and are a proven strategy for efficiently accomplishing more with your time. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound, and while the “Time bound” aspect has direct application to deadlines, the rest of the concepts are more than relevant as well. Think of a project or task deadline as a goal, and tailor communication about that goal to fit the SMART framework. This will give employees the sense that the deadline is not a punishment, but rather a part of an overall strategy to efficiently and comprehensively reach a target.
Involve employee input
One of the biggest issues employees have with deadlines is that the feel unfairly imposed from above. Feeling at odds with a deadline is a surefire motivation killer. To counteract this, involve employees in the planning process as much as possible: after working through the S.M.A.R. elements of a SMART goal (ie. outlining the targets, how they will be measured, and the parameters for getting the work done), ask employees what they feel is a reasonable timeline for completion. If they feel included and that you’re all on the same team, they’re likely to suggest a deadline that is both fair and realistic. Plus, as the deadline approaches there is no opportunity for productivity-killing resentment at a perceived unreasonable deadline set by management.
Be specific – avoid ambiguous timelines
As a manager, it’s tempting to say, “Have this done by the end of the week.” However, that sort of ambiguity sets everyone up for confusion and failure when the “end of the week” means different things to different people. Instead, set a specific date and time, even if that kind of specificity isn’t essential for the task at hand. Ambiguous timelines don’t stick in memory, but a specific date and time does, and creates a more compelling sense of urgency. Online employee scheduling and time tracking software go even further toward helping deadlines stick. With a cloud-based mobile app like TrackTime24, both managers and employees have the project schedule and deadline in their pocket at all times.
Another significant obstacle is competing deadlines. Employee time management gets complicated when several tasks and deadlines overlap, and deciding to complete one means missing the others. When setting a deadline, be sure to communicate with employees about what other projects are ongoing, and how this particular deadline will fit into the mix (the “Include employee input” step is a good opportunity for this conversation). As a manager, you’re in a position to know which activities should take priority, and to give guidance on how employees should allocate time.
Set milestones for progress review and support
Setting a single, faraway deadline is often a recipe for procrastination. Setting milestones and progress checks helps employees stay on track, and helps managers ensure that the work is progressing according to expectations. It’s meaningless to meet a deadline if the work itself is fraught with errors. Further, frequent shifting of deadlines to accommodate re-working a project or task reduces the overall authority that makes a deadline useful in the first place. To keep deadline milestones from feeling like punishment, frame them as a check in where employees have the opportunity to get guidance and support from management. This will maintain a high-productivity environment in which reaching a deadline is seen as a collaborative effort rather than a penalty.