The Rat Race


Sometimes life looks like we are constantly in a rat race. We are running here and there, from morning to night, trying to meet deadlines. And whether we like it or not we all need to meet deadlines, all the time. We must get the children to school in time, we must pay our bills in time, we have to write our reports in time, make our annual plans in time, deliver our goods in time, and just be on time. Or do we really? The way I notice deadlines being taken for granted and abused here makes me wonder how serious we really are in keeping our promises and delivering the goods and services we agreed to deliver. I have hired quite a number of consultants in my career, and I must admit I have been disappointed most of the time in the way they handled our agreement. Making sure an advanced payment is included in the contract, followed by a second payment upon delivery of the draft report I learnt just to forget about the final report as the consultants seemed to have already forgotten about the last 20% payment anyway as they were too busy serving other clients. It has become part of the deal, I guess. As a client though I have lost confidence in getting the service I agreed to pay for and will not go back to the same consultant again. The same applies for all sorts of other contracts. Ever seen a construction being completed in time? I haven’t. And it all seems to be calculated in the contracts up front or otherwise the service provider will come up with all sorts of excuses why timely delivery was impossible because of all kinds of external factors.
I do understand of course that everybody is trying to make ends meet and that in trying to achieve that, take on as many jobs at a time as possible. Business may be slow next month after all and the school fees for the children and the house rent need to be paid. In time, mind you.
The point of course is, that while making short term gains, confidence and thus business will be lost. As a result, more assignments will be taken on and not completed in time, resulting in more loss of confidence and business. In the end the clients will turn their back on us and go somewhere else and they can’t be blamed. The client simply wants value for money, no excuses.
So, whether we are in manufacturing, consulting, selling, importing, exporting, printing, anything for that matter, we better keep our promises. What can we then do to meet our deadlines and gain confidence and have more sales instead? Here are a few suggestions.
Whenever you take on an assignment you better treat the deadline seriously and get cracking immediately. Before saying yes to a new assignment check all current assignments and how much time they need. Also assess whether you can give all it takes to complete the assignment. This is important because nobody is interested in an average or substandard quality of work.
Next, check how much time you will be able to allot for the new project. Based on these factors you can estimate and discuss how much and how soon you will be able to deliver. Remember it is always better to tone down your promises but actually deliver beyond expectations. Under-promise and over-deliver, as the saying goes. This strategy will work to your favour rather than the opposite. Be careful not to overestimate your abilities and make the mistake of taking more work than you can tackle. In other word, don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Being over ambitious can be dangerous so take a practical view of the time and resources you have before making commitments.
Next, once you agreed on the assignment, begin working on it and set your mind to it. This will motivate you to do it in time and it will give you a head start. On the contrary, if you delay and keep things pending till the last minute, you will be subjecting yourself to unnecessary stress and last-minute work. And last- minute work may not be the best and will affect the quality of the outcome.
Also keep checking on your progress on a daily basis to ensure no last-minute surprises. Though you may get an extension of the deadline, this is not something to bank on.
If you have too many deadlines to meet at the same time though, you may have to put in extra hours. Don’t panic though. Instead put in what you can during each day and get help when you need it from capable colleagues.
Finally, when you have completed the assignment give it a thorough and final quality check and apply the finishing touches that will make it top quality. If you work with a well thought out plan of action whenever you have to meet a deadline, you will find the going easy. Instead of a threat, a deadline may thus be turned into an opportunity to prove that you are trustworthy to deliver quality work and in time.
It has been my experience that once you build such a reputation, clients will keep coming back and ask you for a next assignment, which is much more rewarding than having to find new clients all the time, who will be disappointed again sooner than later, because you have again not been able to deliver. Getting out of the rat race will help you to deliver what you promised.

Ton Haverkort


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