8 surefire ways to set meaningful deadlines

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

Deadlines can be a thorny situation. Some deadlines are arbitrary, and others aren’t helping us move forward the right way. At times, they create unnecessary marketing emergencies. But, nonetheless, deadlines help teams work together and move their content performance culture forward. So how do we set meaningful deadlines that help us keep stress low and create better content?

Let’s dive into some of the basics to accomplish this.

  1. Start planning with enough time
  2. Be realistic
  3. Follow the timeline
  4. Know the workflow and dependencies
  5. Understand human behavior on deadlines
  6. Build-in time to collaborate and for delays
  7. Be clear about deliverables
  8. Review and reflect on deadlines

Start planning for deadlines with enough time

When I project managed one of my first marketing projects back in the day, I worked back from the actual date when something needed to be released. Then, I added all the tasks that needed to be done between now and then.

Guess when we should be starting the project based on my estimation? Last week. Of course.

Since I don’t have a time machine, we started now and tried to make up time. But unfortunately, time is easy to get away from us – especially in complex content projects, so make sure to start planning early. That Christmas campaign probably needs to be moving forward sometime around summer vacation time, for example.

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Consider starting the timeline and outline of deadlines way early. Weeks before any action needs to happen. Then set a reminder to begin when you need to start – if tasks didn’t start early.

Be realistic

Planning and planning early, of course, isn’t a guarantee that it’s a good plan. We have to be realistic. How long does it take to:

And I’m not talking about the time leaders think it should take. But the time it takes. Then add some buffer time. To know whether your deadlines are doable, ensure you talk with the people who have to do the tasks. Get commitment to the time associated with each of their tasks.

Follow the timeline

Any timeline is only as good as the degree to which it’s used. What’s the point of a timeline if nobody is following it or some people take weeks when they previously agreed to get things done in days?

I usually block off time on my calendar for tasks to allow myself the opportunity to get tasks done without having to be stressed out about it. That also helps control the number of meetings or livestreams that I can take on during a day.

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Know the workflow and dependencies

Creating deadlines that are met also depends on having a good workflow. If the workflow is inefficient or has bottlenecks, we can either:

Adding more time seems highly inefficient. There’s never enough time for everything that could be done in content, so we need to ensure the workflow works.

Then it’s essential to understand where dependencies are holding things up and why that is happening. Then let’s evolve how we do things when it makes sense.

Understand human behavior on deadlines

The content strategist or creator who gets things done ahead of a deadline certainly exists. I’ve seen them. On the flip side, waiting to pass something along right at the deadline or shortly before and when there’s a natural stopping point for the creator is also common.

Here’s what I mean: Let’s say the deadline is Tuesday. That’s fine but when Tuesday? First thing Tuesday? Last thing? And what does first thing Tuesday even mean? Is that “finalize it first thing Tuesday, and it’s due when that task is done?” That’s just the end of day Tuesday, then. Or if “first thing” means it should be done and ready when we get to work, then isn’t the deadline Monday?

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To take this to another extreme, some people might say that “this will be done next month.” But is that at the month’s beginning or the month’s end? Big difference.

But when it comes to something being done on a specific day, it’s not uncommon that creators send it on over at the end of their day. That’s fine, but keep that in mind, so the next deadline isn’t also on that same day. So the next task can be done tomorrow or later.

Build-in time to collaborate and account for delays

Collaboration matters, and there are different ways to collaborate. Sometimes, a Slack exchange gets the job done. Maybe a Figma online brainstorming board is the way to go. Or a good-ole fashioned live brainstorming session is the path forward.

Either way, we need the time to reflect, ideate, and build on each other’s ideas. That can take time.

While thinking about time allotments, it’s also good to remember that delays can happen. That could be because somebody is sick for a day, there are planned vacations and don’t forget about the regular company-wide holidays. Other times, something can change in a project, or business priorities shift, and teams are now focusing on another project more heavily. All those things lead to delays in the perfect timetable and should be considered.

Be clear about deliverables.

I’m usually a fan of throwing content a parade. Hey, can we use this podcast audiogram also as a short-form audio clip on Racket? How about a TikTok version with a trending sound?

And there’s a time and a place to collaborate and expand how content assets can be used in more channels. But sometimes, we need that blog post, the web page optimized, or whatever it is we are working on. It helps to clarify when something specific is required and where we can put the ideas to reuse the content elsewhere. Or: What the process is to make a note to reuse content elsewhere later.

Review and reflect on deadlines

Human resources expert Holly Adams says it helps teams reflect weekly on what has worked and where there were barriers. This can and should also be applied to project deadlines. Take a look at what worked and didn’t, and make adjustments on the current project as necessary and definitely on the next ones.

Finally, remember that setting reasonable deadlines are helpful on many levels, but meeting deadlines is not the end goal. But it helps us get to the goal, which is to create business content that engages our target audience and helps our business reach more people and connect deeper with existing customers.

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