Six Strategies for Impossible Deadlines

When is the last time you faced an “impossible” deadline? For me, it seems like I’ve had several in the last 90 days. I’ve been thinking about this so much, I decided to share my thought process and the strategies I’ve used to maintain focus and keep moving.
Reframe the problem. How many truly impossible deadlines have you ever faced? For me, I’ve had some sizeable deadlines; the truth is few were impossible. Assuming the mindset: “This is impossible,” doesn’t help. It hurts. Rather, reframe the situation more accurately by saying, “This is extremely challenging.” Leaders love challenges.tweet_bird
Rethink your approach. Based on the challenge you face, you may not be able to apply your traditional work methods. For decades, it has not been my practice to work on Sunday, nor do I typically ask my staff to do so. However, I have faced challenges in the past when we did have to work on Sunday. Drastic situations often require non-traditional solutions.
Rely on others to help. Getting others involved is one of the primary strategies I use when things get crazy. Sometimes, you can seek help from other members of your team; sometimes you can find others in your organization who will be willing to help; and, you can almost always find vendors and contractors who can add needed manpower to meet challenging deadlines.
Re-prioritize your work. Everything can’t be urgent. If it is, you need to consider a different line of work. When big deadlines are on the horizon, some work will probably need to be pushed to make space for the most pressing work. Today’s post is an example. By my own standards, it is late. The reason it is late, I invested the limited time I had this weekend to finalize the manuscript for my new book, Chess Not Checkers. As a reader, you are important to me. However, the publisher’s deadline caused me to send this to you a few hours later than usual.
Renegotiate the deliverable. If you do all you can and still find yourself unable to deliver what is expected when it is due, you can strike a deal. I actually did that on the manuscript I just mentioned. It was actually due Thursday of last week. After talking with the designer, we agreed there would be no harm if the manuscript were delivered this morning. That conversation was a lifesaver! The other way you can apply this idea is not to delay, but modify the deliverable. Sometimes, people ask for more than they really need. A simple conversation can sometimes simplify or reduce what is needed. Finally, you can sometimes negotiate stages of phases for a deadline to be met.
Root out the real issue. If you consistently have what you perceive to be “impossible” deadlines, ask yourself, why? Is the problem a cultural flaw in your organization? Is the issue your own planning? Are you struggling with self-leadership issues? Are you understaffed? Are you overly ambitious? Challenging deadlines are not the end of the world; we all encounter them. But, to constantly be faced with these situations is not healthy for an individual or a culture. If you find yourself in this situation, you may be facing a leadership opportunity to solve a bigger problem than the deadline you are chasing.
Here’s my final thought: don’t become discouraged. You know, the work we do as leaders is often hard – sometimes really hard! Help your team manage challenging and “impossible” deadlines just don’t ever let them stop doing challenging work. What you do matters![GLS_Shield]
 
 

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Wes Roberts

6 years ago

Mark: Ever since meeting you in Buena Vista, CO at the “old DCW,” I’ve been an honest fan of what all you write and are about. One of the “gifts of encouragement/nudges of growth” I’m giving those I mentor around the globe is the privilege of signing up for your blog site, if they have not already done so. Sincerely, your blog posts are well worth sending on, repeating, pondering. Thank you. When next in Atlanta, I would welcome taking you to dinner and having some further conversation. Maybe beef? Oh, oh!!! lol Just kidding. Know you have an avid fan of you expanding wisdom here in the Denver area. Thank you for your consistency in nurturing we who lead and encourage others to lead well.

Mark

6 years ago

Wes, thanks for your encouraging words! I consider it a privilege to share what I’m learning on my leadership journey. Please call on me if I can serve you in the future. Mark

Sluggo

6 years ago

fantastic ideas and presentations. Nice balance of rationalization and the art of the possible

Mark

6 years ago

Thanks for your feedback and encouraging words! Mark

David Pethick

6 years ago

Great post Mark. Every one of your tips is valuable, but I’d like to expand on one in particular.
By renegotiating the deliverable, you are introducing a critical step that is often missed in the corporate world. More often than not, deadlines and the scope of the work are somewhat arbitrary yet they go unchallenged by a manager.
By renegotiating the scope of what is to be delivered, a leader can take back a lot of control. If faced with an immovable deadline, taking ownership of what can be delivered in that time-frame is very empowering. The simple act of asking some questions to clarify what, why and when the work is due will help any leader to better explain to her team why it is critical that this is completed.
I take a dim view of leaders who refuse to negotiate internally or speak truth to power. It is a critical skill that those above and below rely upon.
Kind Regards.
David Pethick
Co-Founder, http://leading.io

Mark

6 years ago

I agree completely! Thanks for amplifying my response. Your comments add depth and clarity to a crucial reality every leader faces at some point on their journey. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

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