What is the Drop Dead Date?

Do you ask the question when someone hands you a project? Are they honest with you? Hmm.

There is an article in the Atlantic about the clocks in Grand Central Station, which are set one minute ahead. The trains actually leave on time, but the perception (I guess) is that commuters who are rushing to catch their train find they don’t have to run – the train is still there. Thus, causing fewer accidents.

I think it’s ridiculous to do that. I’d like to see the actual data about the outcome of their deception.

It seems more like a snooze button to me. I’ll bet there are thousands of everyday commuters who know they actually have another minute to catch the train.

Okay, where I’m going with this is that I do not ‘pad’ timelines. What you see on your to-do list is real.

Because I believe in you, I believe in noting the exact date and time I want to see a comp, proof, final or whatever has been requested of you. That’s because I work with Responsible Adults who like expectations and I’m just not into lying.

However, in return, you are responsible for a) reviewing what comes across your desk (or to-do list) in a timely manner, and letting me know if there are any issues; and b) notifying me if you’re out for a latté, photoshoot or a day of repose. If you didn't take care of part b, then you have a problem. A sticky note on your monitor telling me you ran to Starbucks works for me – and a voice or e-mail if you’re out for a day or more.

It’s just plain stupid to tell you I need something today at 5pm when I actually need it tomorrow at 5pm. It’s not fair to you and a scheduling nightmare for me. But it’s really unfair – and plain rude – to everyone if you consistently deliver late.

In my superbly structured world, I have a comprehensive schedule in place for all projects and can see where everything is; who’s working on what, and if there’s enough time to work on the project I just assigned to you.

You see, I’m really looking out for you. I will not lie to you. Ever.

Earn that trust. And by the way, if you let me know when you’re going to Starbucks the latté will be on me.

There are benefits to honesty…and meeting expectations.

setting expectations makes you look – psychic

A long, long time ago I was a freelance designer, and a single mom with a couple of young kids. I had a phrase “Boring is good”.

I like knowing what to expect. That means you have a routine, a plan for the day and expected outcomes for your chores and tasks.

There were plenty of times when life was not boring. Like when I had to pull an all-nighter to get a project to a client for a 9am meeting, then my son awoke at midnight and couldn't breathe. With my sleepy daughter in tow, we rushed to the hospital. We were in the emergency room until 5am, while I watched the clock, calculating how I could finish my project when I got home - while feeling guilty that I wasn't fully mentally devoted to the more important issue at hand.

My son was, in fact, just fine – it was scary though – I rushed home and I got the kids to bed, and got to work. By 7am I knew I couldn't make the deadline, so I called the client and told her that I needed a little more time and asked for a 10am meeting – delayed one hour.

I managed to get the project done, kids to the babysitter and to the meeting by our new, revised time.

I had a wonderful meeting – my client asked what happened, and I told her. She had several colleagues in the room. Everyone was like, “oh, you could have had another day; I've been there myself; when my kids were young…” You get the idea. They were human, empathetic, kind.

They were a client for a long time.

So, think about planning for outcomes. As it relates to an agency or an in-house department, plan everything. It gives you breathing room when you have a real emergency.

Yep, planning means... create a schedule, allocate time for every task, and be diligent about it. And have contingencies, like moving staff around, or getting more help. This isn’t advanced math, just common sense.

I would never tell you to do busywork – this is planning. A quick turn-and-burn, get it on the schedule, allocate time. A hundred little things really add up. Use a schedule template and it is easy. Assign, adjust hours and SAVE. DONE.

When you do this, then you will know immediately if you can actually get all your work done. In fact, if you have everything on a schedule, you can even confirm before you commit.

You become a…seer.

You really can tell a client – “let me check to make sure we can get that to you by xx time”.

Clients become jerks when you let them make endless, unreasonable demands – and then fulfill them. Grow a spine and train your client. You do have more than one client – right? One dictator can ruin deadlines for everyone. Train client-facing staff; replace or reassign the weak or the eager-to-please. They may be nice, but are the undoing of profitability. Your goal is to stay in business. Sorry.

Setting expectations is Rule One. Delivering on time comes right after. Okay, you can include awesome creative.

And, when you ask a client for more time, have a legitimate reason. It had better be an emergency. Bad planning just makes you look irresponsible.

See…boring is good. But you, somehow, already knew that.