7 Actionable Steps to ensure you ALWAYS meet your deadline.
Now that we've established why it's so important to never miss a deadline, it’s time to get a plan in place and take action to ensure that you’re always able to meet the deadline.
Set the project timeline together with your client.
The ideal situation is when the client shares the project requirements and his expectations for the job, and you as the provider suggest a doable timeline.
Often times the client won’t know how much time is needed for each task, so setting the project timeline together with your client is the best way to approach any new job.
But if you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’ll know that most times the ideal situation isn’t the case, and the client has a specific deadline that’s set in stone.
If that’s the case, it’s up to you to determine if you’re able to get the work done on time or not. It’s no shame to decline a project if you believe that you won’t be able to meet the deadline.
Hint – if a client has a 24-hour deadline to create a 3-minute promo video for his product, you’re not going to get the work done on time. Or put simply, decline the project.
In my experience, each time I've declined a project due to an unrealistic deadline, the client appreciated my honesty and was able to reconsider his options.
Track your time, learn from experience.
Experience is key to estimating the amount of work involved in each task. The more experience you gain, the easier it will be to know how long each task requires.
One way to know how much time is required is by tracking your time. When you start working on a certain task, note when you started and when you finished.
You can use the most basic stopwatch like the one on Google (Type: set stopwatch)
The more information you have on how long you work on certain tasks, the easier it will become to suggest doable timeframes and know if you’re able to meet certain deadlines suggested by your client.
Define milestones, not only the project deadline date.
When you create the project schedule, don’t only define a project end date, but also set milestones for the work progress (“Milestone” is a task, a step, that needs to be completed before the project is finished).
By breaking down the project into milestones you add multiple secondary deadlines to the project, and this helps ensure you're on track.
For example, when I create explainer videos for my clients I don’t only define the project end date but also create multiple milestones along the way:
- Script review
- Storyboard design
- Voice over recording
- First video rough cut
- Delivery of end product
It’s important to be realistic about the amount of work involved in each task, and the amount of time you’ll need in order to complete the project.
And as a general rule, it’s better to add one or two extra days to your estimate and then deliver the product before the deadline, than suggesting a short timeframe that will leave you out of time.
Take feedback, revisions, and delays into consideration.
Did you notice anything missing in the above list of milestones?
Many times the feedback and revision process is left out of the project plan and schedule. But successful projects require teamwork, and teamwork involves getting feedback from the client you’re working with.
If you’re working with a small business, the feedback process may be quicker. But if you’re working with a large corporation, feedback will probably be slower because your work needs to go through multiple departments before approval (i.e legal, branding, editors, marketing and so on).
And then there’s the revision stage, which is where you work on the changes requested by the client, and send the project for a second, third and possibly even fourth round of review – each project will be different.
But all this takes time, and that time should be considered when creating the project plan.
Delays are different, and as mentioned earlier can depend on life circumstances happening.
But delays are not always the freelancer's fault.
Sometimes the client will not meet the deadline set for providing feedback, and there’s not much you can do about it. This might postpone the official deadline, but at least you were on time and the delay isn’t your fault.
I’m not saying you should add a milestone for ‘delays’. That wouldn’t be a smart move… but what you should do is plan things in a smart way, and learn to anticipate certain possibilities.
For example, if this is your third project with client X, and you know that client X always needs extra time to provide feedback – in the next project schedule add more time for feedback.
Schedule time to work on each task.
“Are you kidding me? A calendar? I’m a freelancer, I control my time. Who needs schedules?”
For years I didn’t have a schedule. I knew what needed to be done, and I planned things in my head.
But the more my business grew and the busier life became, the more I realized I must have a schedule and block off time for working on each project and task.
If you don’t have a favorite calendar tool yet, I highly recommend the Google calendar. It’s simple, free and robust. You can easily schedule meetings with people in different time zones, set recurring events, define multiple calendar categories, import useful calendars like national holidays and sporting events…
Keep track of your tasks with a personal to-do list.
One of the best ways to ensure you’re making progress towards each milestone is by creating sub-tasks for each main task.
This will vary for each project type, but the idea is to breakdown each milestone into smaller manageable tasks.
By doing so each task will look less intimidating, and it will be easier for you to know exactly what needs to be done to ensure you’re getting closer to completing the milestone on time.
You can use task management tools like Any.Do, Evernote, Google Keep or simply use pen and paper (my favorite method) to track your progress.
Take time zones and working days into account.
If you work with clients that operate in different parts of the country, or even different countries, you need to take time zones and working days into account.
- Is your client also on a Monday-Friday workweek? Or does he work Sunday-Friday?
- What time zone is he in? Does he expect you to work or be online during certain hours?
- Do either you or your client have vacation or national holidays coming up?
All these need to be taken into account when working out the project plan. The more details you have, the better the project plan will be. It’s not unreasonable to let your client know that you’ll be off work during X/Date because of a national holiday.
- There are 7 actions you can take to make sure you’re always on time.
- Set the project timeline together with your client.
- Track your time, learn from experience.
- Define milestones, not only the project deadline date.
- Take feedback, revisions and delays into consideration.
- Schedule time to work on each task.
- Keep track of your tasks with a personal to-do list.
- Take time zones and working days into account.
“Deadlines are not meant to be broken. I’ll do everything I possibly can to always meet my project deadlines.”
If you follow the steps above, you'll set yourself in a much