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Arbitrary Deadlines? That’s the Way the Content Crumbles

Yvonne Lyons | November 19, 2015
Arbitrary Deadlines_That's How the Content Crumbles

Deadline. Does that word make you cringe? It has some creepy origins. It seems to date back to the American Civil War, at which point it described a line drawn on the ground over which federal prisoners of war were not allowed to cross under penalty of being shot.

The word deadline probably still makes many of us squirm. Probably not because it comes with the fear of being shot (although I don’t know where you work), but because deadlines can be tough to manage.

Deadlines are like bills and taxes. They’re always there, constantly in your ear, that one more thing you didn’t do before you left work that won’t stop nagging you. But keeping your content marketing plan moving forward is largely dependent upon managing a schedule that includes (assuming you’ve put a good plan together) a bunch of moving parts, most of which are deadline driven. So if you (or your team) aren’t meeting those deadlines consistently, you’ve got chaos, and likely not much in the way of results.

And more than that, meeting deadlines makes a statement about how you do business, whether you’re an agency like we are or if you’re pushing your own content marketing agenda forward inside a business. The people around you (clients or colleagues) learn something about you by how you decide to manage and respect the almighty deadline.

As an agency, I think the respect for the deadline is one of the things that differentiates you from the pack. A promise is a promise, and to me, a deadline is just that. A promise that you will deliver something. I am a stickler about them. I don’t like to miss them.

As content marketers, we do lots of things to help us meet deadlines. We create editorial calendars, we have meetings, we do lots of planning. In my opinion, there is kind of no point in doing all of these things if you are going to ignore them all and just wing it in the end.

Here are some ways to get yourself or your team on track with deadlines so that you don’t feel like you’re always missing the mark, and you start getting the results you want from that cracker jack content marketing plan you put together.

1. Make deadlines realistic. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Make your deadline a little vague if you aren’t really sure when you can deliver something, but don’t say 8 a.m. tomorrow if you have no clue that you can deliver at 8 a.m. tomorrow. Only promise what you KNOW you can deliver. Better yet, under promise and over deliver. Shoot for Friday at 5 p.m. and deliver at 5 p.m. on Thursday. The point is, understand how long it takes to do something and build your schedules around your knowledge.

2. Nothing should be arbitrary. If you are just taking a stab in the dark to create a deadline and forcing your team to adhere to it for no reason, it will eventually kill morale. Similarly, if you are padding deadlines so much to ensure that you (and your team) don’t miss them, you’ve missed the point. While it seems friendly, if everyone knows that all your deadlines are ridiculously padded, people just continue to delay, thinking there is always more time in your crazy, inflated schedule. It’s just a target, which is not the same thing as a deadline.

3. Be willing to adjust the editorial calendar. I’ve written about this before. Just because you made an editorial calendar doesn’t mean you can’t change it. Maybe you were feeling all on top of the world and starry-eyed when you made that calendar. You thought you could write everything in two days. Reality can be sobering.

Spread things out. Maybe don’t publish as often. Understand what the reality of your situation is. Do you really have as many writers as you thought you did? Are they all as good as you thought they would be or are you spending twice as long editing as envisioned? There are real factors that can affect your ability to get things done on a schedule and you might just need to change the plan. That’s ok. Change it — but don’t give up.

4. Don’t tolerate the ones who talk a big game. You have to teach those on your team who constantly believe they can do everything that they are not doing anyone any favors by saying they can do 15 things and then failing to do 5 of them at the end of the week. The overflow ends up on someone else’s plate and that creates animosity within a team (not to mention problems for your publishing schedule).

5. Put up a warning flag. If there is a problem getting the task done, be willing to punt to Plan B. Things happen. They always will. If someone can’t get a job done and they throw a flag with enough time, you should be able to shift to a new plan. But raising the flag at 11 p.m. on the night before the deadline is not enough time.

6. Know when to say when. Don’t noodle your copy or your design or your editing to death so that you miss the deadline. Sometimes you just have to say that something is finished so that you can meet that deadline and move onto the next thing.

Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s, once said, “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.” For some, this statement rings very true — deadlines are the driving force behind productivity. For others, deadlines create fear and anxiety. Regardless of your reaction to them, deadlines will make or break you. Instead of allowing them to become a source of stress, be realistic during your planning phase, be thoughtful about setting accurate deadlines, and be diligent about meeting them.

Read “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide” to get moving with your 2016 content planning. Then get in touch if you need help on mapping out next year’s deadlines.

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