Our work at Argentum revolves around deadlines. Deadlines set our business strategy, our workload, our schedule and sometimes, if we don’t manage our time efficiently, our afterhours. Deadlines are stressful, but they also drive our businesses to thrive. Without deadlines, I doubt that we would be able to manage and prepare multiple project proposals at a time.
Ideally, Proposals should be completed a number of days prior to the official submission date. This in order to avoid any technical difficulties that may arise during the submission process. Nevertheless, it becomes increasingly difficult to plan this process, as unforeseen events and challenges hinder our focus on one project, and avert our attention to another.
Departments that submit many proposals on a single deadline (university research departments, organisations’ innovation units, etc.) Often enhance the difficulty involved in stressful deadlines, and glorify the triumph of submitting proposals last minute; turning last minute submission stories into “tales from the battlefield” that experienced personnel pass on to the younger employees. The glorification of such occurrences can contribute to a sense of comradery between teammates, but in the long run they can create team fatigue, reduce the quality of submitted proposals and even lead to missing deadlines altogether.
For this reason, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips and lessons that I’ve learnt throughout the past 10 years of writing grant proposals at Argentum. These tips have helped me avoid deadline stress, and manage my time in a more efficient manner:
- Use the deadline to your advantage – A deadline is an excellent motivator for you, your colleagues, clients and partners. It is external, So the ‘urgency’ of the task doesn’t depend on you and is out of your control. It’s non-negotiable; it is finite and binary – either you make the deadline or not; and most importantly it can free up so much spare time after completing the task! The Project Manager should use the deadline to his/her advantage, as much as possible.
- Plan better – The first action when starting a complex task on a deadline, is getting to know the requirements of the task. You should be aware of all the requirements (are appendices needed? Is there any signing of documents involved? How complex is the registration?) before planning the schedule to complete the task. My personal suggestion is to get rid of the easy tasks first. This method allows you to score some easy “wins” and provide your partners, clients and colleagues with a feeling of confidence and trust in your work process. This will allow you to focus more clearly on the “heavy” aspects of the task which are often more important for the outcome and significantly more time-consuming.
- Be aware of the workload of others – Try to think of the other people you need to involve in the assignment in order to complete the task. What is their workload? Do they have enough time on their hands? In case you are not located in the same country, are there any national holidays to consider, that may affect the work schedule? An experienced project manager can sense the workload of their colleague from the way they behave; but even an inexperienced consultant can simply ask their collaborators what their availability is, or planned days out-of-the-office or even the number of hours they plan to spend on the assignment.
- Resist over-optimism –It’s hard for us to predict our own ability to get tasks done. Some of us tend to be over optimistic in what we think we can achieve. It is therefore important to set a “worst-case” due date for subtasks. I would recommend approximately 20% more than the time you think you need, in order to get the job done.
I wish to end this blog post with a mental exercise one can do when facing deadline stress. When you face this stress, try to think – will you be happier if the deadline was delayed by a week? in most cases the answer will be a clear no, as you have already done most of the work and the completion of the task is at your fingertips. Focus on that notion, and allow it to motivate you forward.