Dealing with deadlines

Deadlines aren’t going anywhere, especially when you’re an EA but how you deal with them can define your success and reputation. John Cole, a productivity and work/life balance expert, says researchers have shown that the more complex the task, the sooner the deadline feels, so he shares his top techniques on meeting that target, every time:

  • Clarify expectations: your boss will expect something done in a certain way, whilst you have your own expectations – identify both to create a realistic schedule then prioritise and evaluate to put the deadline into realistic context.
  • Get equipped – deadlines often come without warning, making it tempting to leap straight in. But without the resources to fulfil the task, a project will suffer from interruptions, inconsistencies and gaps. If you’re given the tools you need before you get stuck in, everyone will benefit.
  • Create deadlines within deadlines – a deadline with no subdivisions is pretty meaningless, so create a ‘critical path analysis diagram,’ which assigns each element of your workflow its own expected duration – it’s basically a time-map of everything that you need to do.
  • Be realistic – factor in every possibility and don’t over-estimate – how many hours can you work for without the quality dipping? What impact will your other responsibilities have? Factor in a contingency period while you’re cooking up your schedule and balance it against the known variables in your routine and environment.
  • Eliminate distractions – the key is to protect large enough chunks of time to achieve and maintain your flow, so delegate where possible, have a word with your superior if you need a bit more space to focus, and deal with distractions within your control, like reducing e-mail access for certain periods.
  • Don’t over-commit – if you take on more work than you can handle, your results will start to suffer and everybody loses – sometimes your job is to explain why you have to say no.