Deadlines scare most people. They try to avoid them. Or go soft when it comes to meeting them.
In fact, there is a whole movement against deadlines and how they suck creative energy and innovative thinking.
But they shouldn’t frighten you. And you definitely shouldn’t avoid them.
Because a deadline could be the best thing that ever happened to you and your company.
Deadlines, when well executed, boost morale, increase momentum, and inspire creative solutions.
Most of the time, you and other employees are focused on the everyday tasks and minutiae of managing your electrical business:
- Processing and fulfilling orders and making deliveries
- Serving customers and responding to their requests
- Repairing and refurbishing equipment
- Managing inventory, ordering supplies and handling billing.
You usually don’t have the time to step back, think about what you’re doing, and come up with new and better ways to do your everyday tasks.
Deadlines can pull you and your co-workers away from your day-to-day routine and help you:
- Become more creative about how you get things done
- Find ways to provide a higher level of service to customers
- Uncover opportunities to do things more efficiently
- Learn about technology that can make doing your job easier.
In fact, many managers actually use deadlines as a tool to drive innovative thinking from their employees. They purposely set deadlines to drive up the adrenaline in order to get their employees to explore new options.
Professor Dan Ariely, an expert on behavioral economics, believes that declaring a deadline can be a great way to ensure that things get done. In his opinion, employees who are concerned about the embarrassment of missing a deadline will step up their game and perform better.
According to a recent Dale Carnegie survey, 71 percent of employees are not fully engaged with their companies. Two recommendations made by Dale Carnegie to improve employee engagement are to encourage workers to feel empowered and allow them to have an impact on their work environment. Empowering your employees to find new solutions under deadline could help improve their engagement with your company.
Hint: Even if you’re not under a deadline, Professor Ariely recommends setting one for yourself every now and then. You’ll be surprised how it can get you to think in new, fresh and innovative ways.
Let’s take a look at 4 of these benefits and why you should feel excited — and not anxious — when the clock is ticking down to a deadline.
For some people, having a deadline forces them to think outside of the box. And while not everyone agrees that deadlines drive creative thinking, (a popular Wall Street Journal article generated a lot of debate on this topic), for many people, when they don’t have the time to do things the same old way, they “get creative” and come up with new and innovative ways to get things done.
I recently talked to employees at some electrical businesses I work with and found that deadline-related creativity happened — and paid off — in many different ways.
Case Study: Tom is an electrical mining planner. Tom’s boss was frustrated by the inefficient way he scheduled deliveries. Tom used different trucks to deliver supplies as they became available or were needed on site.
Tom’s boss set up a fake “deadline” one day. When Tom was pressed to step it up and make multiple deliveries on a single day, he found that it made more sense to use a single truck with one crew to pick up all the supplies and unload them all at once. Not only did he get things delivered faster that day, he was also able to save money on fuel, staffing, and wear-and-tear on his trucks. Tom’s boss got the results he wanted by setting the artificial deadline.
Or another example:
Case Study: John is a CAT rental manager who faced a tight deadline to get equipment to a client, but most of it was in the shop for repairs. Instead of getting it fixed the way he usually did — having a single repair person work on each piece of equipment — he got creative and realized a team-based approach would speed things up.
People working together were able to help each other out when it came to repairing the heavy and cumbersome equipment. Plus, they could share ideas on what was wrong and how to fix things.
This new way of doing things — borne out of necessity — became the model for how his company ran its repair department. It has earned the company a lot of money because it helped keep more of its equipment up and running at any given time, which means the company can lease it out more often.
Interesting fact: According to a study conducted by Adobe, 75 percent of people feel they’re not living up to their creative potential. Finding creative solutions under deadline could help employees and co-workers feel more satisfied at work.
Dave runs an electrical contracting business that primarily supplies entertainment venues. One New Year’s Eve he found that he was scheduled to do set ups at ten different venues in one day. Creativity stepped in when he realized he could deliver supplies and equipment ahead of time and store it on site. That means he could focus his team on making deliveries in the days prior to New Year’s Eve and use them on the day to do set-ups and testing.
He continued doing this during other busy times of the year like wedding season and other holiday periods and was able to take on more business because of it. The additional business easily covers the higher insurance costs associated with storing equipment off site.
Tip: Deadlines don’t always make people think outside the box. They often make people panic — which can cause them to completely “lose site of the box”. If this sounds like you, take time to step back when you feel panic setting in. Breath deeply. Force yourself to think. Step-by-step, review what you do and think about what you could do differently at every step to help you find creative ways to work smarter, better and faster. This Lifehack article offers 22 tips that can help you take the anxiety out managing deadlines.
Better customer service
You’re good at what you do. And your customers are probably used to you being good at what you do. That means they may take you for granted.
Tight deadlines can be a great opportunity to step up your level of customer service and remind your clients how great you really are.
Dave, the owner of the electrical consulting business, remembers getting a call from a regular client two hours before a concert. The client had forgotten to place an order with Dave to deliver equipment and set it up for the concert and only realized he had a problem when Dave did not show up as usual.
Dave was able to scramble, find the electrical equipment, cables and connectors needed for the concert, and get it delivered and set-up on time. The owner of the concert venue really appreciated all Dave did to help her out — and she never took Dave — and all the hard work he does — for granted again.
Tom, the electrical mining planner, faced a similar deadline crisis when another vendor was unable to deliver electrical equipment and supplies to a mine on time. Dave was able to scramble and save the day. He got the equipment there in the nick of time so the miners could begin working as scheduled. This stepped-up level of service impressed the mine owner, who moved all his business to Tom’s company.
Most people get used to doing things in a certain way. They have a process that works for them and they stick with it. You probably do, too.
However, there’s nothing like a deadline to help you figure out what parts of your process are redundant, wasteful or unnecessary.
John, the CAT rental manager, used to have a sign-off system for every step of his repair and delivery process. He thought it was important to do this to maintain high levels of workmanship and service. When facing a deadline, he abandoned the sign-off system. And he discovered that eliminating it did not impact his business — or the quality of the work and service his company provided — in the least. Fewer reviews and sign-offs actually increased efficiency, and spot-check reviews were enough to ensure that quality was maintained.
Dave’s boss was I satisfied by the way Dave handled the company’s inventory. Dave was very cautious and used to scan and record every piece of equipment as it left his warehouse, made it on the truck, arrived at the destination and was installed. He followed a similarly rigorous routine when it came time for take-down and removal of the equipment and its return to his warehouse.
One day, Dave’s boss announced a tight deadline for a delivery. Dave was strapped for time and decided to simplify things and only do the inventory at the beginning, middle and end of the process. And guess what? Dave did not lose any more supplies or equipment with this more limited approach to tracking it. Plus things moved a lot faster and more efficiently, which means he was able to serve more clients each day.
This “artificial” deadline from Dave’s boss became a great teaching moment for Dave and really helped improve the company’s performance.
Lesson: Are you looking for a great way to encourage employees to use “self-discovery” to figure out new ways to do things? Setting a deadline can be an effective way to do this. Rather than just telling them what to do, you can simply shorten the amount of time they have to complete the task. This will “force” them to find new ways to get things done more quickly. And they’ll feel that they discovered the solution, and it was not dictated to them.
- Do you pick up the phone to place orders?
- Maybe you maintain a notepad list of the things you need to do each day and check them off as you get them done?
- Perhaps you keep invoices filed in a binder rather than managing your billing online?
Many of us maintain old, manual habits that we find hard to break. There’s nothing like a deadline to make us turn to technology to get things done faster and better.
Some tech-based solutions you should consider next time you face a time crunch could include:
- Use online systems rather than the phone to order electrical equipment, cables, connectors and other supplies. Online ordering is faster and more efficient, and most systems allow you to save old orders and use them to pre-populate new ones. This can be a huge time-saver if you tend to order the same things over and over again.
- Build an app — or get one built for you — to help you manage day-to-day tasks. Apps these days are becoming faster and cheaper to build. And a small investment in one today could save you and your co-workers a lot of time and money in the long run.
- Reduce your dependence on paper. No matter what you’re doing on paper, there’s probably an app — or software — that can do it better and faster. Next time you face a tight deadline, it would certainly be worth the time to step back and see if there’s a digital way to accomplish your tasks. It can help streamline things as you do them and keep a simple and easy-to-find record of everything you do.
None of us ever look forward to the stress associated with facing a deadline. But it’s not something you should be afraid of — or avoid — either. A deadline can give you a great opportunity to rethink how you do what you do and find solutions to accomplish your tasks in a faster and better way. After all, necessity is the mother of invention!