How to Enforce Deadlines

Learn how you can best get people to meet their deadlines.

Stever Robbins,
November 8, 2010
Episode #155

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It’s hard enough to overcome your own procrastination. How do you help other people overcome theirs? Different things work for different people. A magazine editor wrote in, asking how to enforce deadlines for her contributors. She gets a mix of employee and volunteer writers. This question required the big guns, so I turned to my outside panel of experts for advice.

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How to Enforce Deadlines

Melvin is a super-nerd. “It’s all about being very, very clear,” Melvin says. Meeting deadlines are part of someone’s job. Deadlines should not be soft and fluffy. They’re a fact of nature. Like the fact that new vampires rise from the crypt three days after being bitten. That means if you want to have real vampires at your Halloween party on Sunday, you need to make sure they’ve all been bitten by the Thursday before. If you wait until Friday, it’s just too late.

When you hire someone to do work for you, the deadline is part of the agreement. So if you work with a bunch of writers, for example, you should check in with them once a month and review their on-time performance. Sometimes all that’s needed is for them to become aware of how often they are—or aren’t—meeting their deadline, and they’ll self-correct.

Enforce Deadlines by Making Them Public

Don’t let yourself take the burden of other people’s missed deadlines! It isn’t fair.

Another way to enforce deadlines is to make all of the dates public. Bernice sends out a weekly newsletter that many other people contribute to. She’s sick of having to manage everyone’s deadlines and feels that because the newsletter is a group effort, all deadline information should be public too.

I confess, I’ve used this myself on projects. Create a public calendar prominently displayed in the office, showing due dates and actually-submitted dates for everyone. Above the calendar, put the on-time goal (100%) and last week’s on-time percentage for the last week. “We're 80% on time."

Note early submissions on the calendar in green ink. Write late submissions in red. Making this information public does two things. It gives feedback, just like individual conversations, and it also serves as a benchmark, showing everyone that there are some people who meet most or all of their deadlines. Of course, it also introduces peer pressure and implied public humiliation. But that’s all self-imposed, so you get all the benefits of public humiliation without actually having to build a pillory in the middle of the office and clean up the rotten fruit used to pelt the offender.