How to Hit Every Deadline Every Time

Calculate start times to make sure you meet your deadline.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #402

It’s the 21st century! Woo hoo! Being the future, we’ve augmented our brains with amazing technology that lets us multitask and be super productive on a dozen things at once! Ha ha, just kidding. Actually, if you multitask, it will turn your brain to mush and make you unable to perform even simple mental tasks. But since the first thing to go is your ability to assess your productivity, you’ll feel great while your abilities descend to the level of a flatworm.

That doesn’t change the fact that we have multiple projects going on or several goals to hit at once. So with only one attention span, we need to decide what to work on next. Usually, that means focusing on what seems the most urgent at the time. And usually we define “urgent” as “needs to be finished most quickly.”

But if that’s your definition of urgent, it won’t quite work! It doesn’t take into account projects that need more time to finish. As a result, choosing the task with the earliest deadline to cover first may be keeping you from hitting other deadlines on time. There’s a better way.

Instead of using the soonest deadline to prioritize, focus on what needs to be started the soonest.

Establish the Lead Time of Your Tasks

In order to know what needs to be started first, you need to figure out lead times. A lead time is how far ahead of a deadline you need to complete the task. You’re sneaking out of work for a coffee break. Your artisan cafe of choice only takes cash, so you need to go to the ATM. The five minutes to takes to grab cash from the ATM is your lead time. That’s five minutes not spent getting your caffeine fix. 

To establish your lead times, add up all the preparation time you’ll need for that task. Then you’ll know exactly how far in advance you have to start.

Intern MG invited me to his holiday potluck. He asked me to cook green beans and mashed potatoes. He is either very brave or very foolish. I said yes! I am very sadistic.

Being of German descent, MG is a real stickler for deadlines: if I’m even five minutes late, he just might ask me to leave (while keeping my green beans, of course). Even Martha Stewart cowers in abject inadequacy when confronted with intern MG’s standards.

The green beans take 5 minutes of prep and 15 minutes to make. That means my green bean lead time is 20 minutes. The mashed potatoes take 20 minutes to cook and five minutes to mash. That means my potato lead time is 25 minutes. 

Now that I know my lead times, I need to figure out how to do all of that on time.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.