10 Tips for Setting Realistic Deadlines
David Allen is probably the undisputed guru of the project planning checklist. He has it down to an exact science. As a matter of fact, his science may be too exact. When I follow his checklist pattern I find myself more driven by marking the next item on the checklist than completing the project itself. Oh, it gets done just the same but I tend to lose my perspective about exactly where I am in the project.
With that in mind, I've tried to simplify things a bit, and write out this list that leaves things in their broader categories.
No offence to David Allen is intended.
1. Distinguish Between Target Date and Deadlines.
When most of us think about what we consider a deadline, we really are thinking about target dates. Deadlines are due dates set beyond our control. Target dates are dates we set when we want to be done with a particular project. The difference is subtle, but it does exist and it is important, especially when we think about our own empowerment.
2. Identify the Task.
What exactly is this project intended to accomplish. Are we trying to create a work environment in which all of our co leagues is competent at a particular skill set? Or, are we trying to set up a program to make certain everyone gets thirty hours of continued education training annually? These are two separate goals with two entirely different outcomes.
3. Break the Task Into Chunks.
The most efficient way to eliminate procrastination when confronted with a major task is to break the task down into manageable chunks. It is much easier to say I will compile the sales numbers from two locations today than it is to say I will compile the figures for twenty sites with in the next four weeks.
4. Schedule Time for Each Chunk and Build a Chart.
For me a visual of a project is an indispensable tool. When I am presented with an enormous challenge I break it into a military campaign. I build a detailed map of all of my resources, objectives and obstacles.
5. Gather the Materials Needed.
After I build my campaign map I set about gathering all the resources and materials I need to carry out my battle plan. Everything from PowerPoint presentations to legal pads is listed and compiled.
6. Stick to Your Work Schedule.
Mark off the tasks you have accomplished every day to keep yourself motivated and on target.
7. Reassess Your Time Line/Mid-Point Review.
When you have reached the mid-point of the time window you allotted do a reassessment. This will allow you the opportunity to see how far ahead of schedule you are, or to determine if you have been unrealistic in your time goals.
8. Eliminate Non-Productive Activities.
a) Running errands.
9. Re-Assemble Project Component Parts.
At least ten days before your target completion date, put together your first draft run through of your completed project. This is a major eye opener and should never be left undone.
10. Assess Project Success.
After the project is completed assess the success. I like to utilize a basic rubric (sample above) that annotates how well I stuck to steps 1-8 of my plan. This shows me my areas of strength and need on one 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper.