The Business of Deadlines
The most common thing we all share in the workplace is deadlines. Deadlines don’t know care what your industry is, what your business is or even what your assignment is. Deadlines don’t really care who you are. Sometimes we act like deadlines care about us. “Don’t they know who we are?” Business is very much focused on getting things done. You are given things to do. When you are given something to do, what is your first question? I would bet you it is, “When is it due?” Or it could be, “When do you need it?” What do successful folks do? What do those folks do who “get ahead” of others?
Getting Ahead vs. Getting It Done
To separate the “get ahead” folks from everyone else, it is instructive to consider the “normal” reaction to an assignment due date. The normal and perhaps textbook reaction is to put it on a calendar. And that is not a bad practice, of course. But the good and the great separate very quickly from there.
The most successful folks I know don’t wait for the due date to accomplish a task.
The due date for them is not relevant because they will have it done so far in advance that to keep track of what they do they need a watch, not a calendar.
Best By Vs. Expiration Dates
When you go to Whole Foods, Safeway or Kroger, most everything you buy has an expiration date. Whether it is blueberries, eggs, meat or fish, there is a date that is a “due date.” Some packages have “best by” dates indicating that the food will taste best by a certain date. Once you buy an item, do you calendar the expiration dates and then wait to eat them right before they expire? Of course, you don’t. You want fresh food.
When a manager gives you an assignment, it is because it is “fresh” on their minds. It is something they need and are interested in learning about or resolving. When you put it on a shelf and calendar it, you relax and know you will get it done by its “due date.” But those that get ahead start it and finish it while it is “fresh.” Those who get ahead think in terms of “best by” dates.
So on your next assignment, don’t just ask when it is due. After you ask when it is due, ask if it would make a difference to have it sooner? Priorities can be difficult to ascertain and sometimes managers themselves aren’t sure how to prioritize your work. But seeking to understand the “best by” date the next time you get an assignment and meeting that “best by” date will put you on a path to greatness.