Color & Control:

Handling tight work deadlines 

I’m a happily employed accounting assistant at a large company that I secured through my job coach from Reena’s Channels supported employment program.

Tips to help you stay on track

Dear Joanna,

My boss has requested that I complete the data entry of 100 financial statements with only a week’s notice. With holidays just around the corner, and based on my past work experience, I know will require a lot longer to be able to meet the deadline. What’s the best way to approach my boss and discuss this unrealistic expectation?

Signed: Deadline Dread  

Dear DD,

After consulting with the Reena job coaches as well as Wardynski’s blog and based on my own experience, the following are some strategies to consider before you present this issue to your boss:

1. Deadlines Outside of your Control. Sometimes, the boss doesn’t understand the work involved in this task. He or she could be pressured from management to get this done as quickly and well as possible regardless of whether or not the deadline can be met. The first step is to ask to meet with your boss. Be clear and open about the task and what’s involved. Be empathetic and let the boss know that you understand the urgency and that you want to help. Then, explain what you can accomplish within this tight deadline. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Prepare an excel spreadsheet with the breakdown of a schedule with expected timelines and daily goals of what you can complete with 100% accuracy. For example: Week One: 25 statements; Week Two: 25 Statements; and so on.

2. Prioritize. Step two could be an opportunity to discuss your “timeline flow chart schedule” with your boss. Try to find out which documents are most important and most urgent (and least urgent)  It’s important to explain the process and then you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Again, you need to be clear, transparent and respectful of the pressure being put on your boss and of course on you as well. Be honest without blaming anyone.

3. Asking for help. Sometimes your assigned work could overlap with other teams or departments within your company. Check out with your boss if this is the case. And then see if you can share information and even join the team to work together to achieve this deadline. Perhaps there are other co-workers who can help out for faster results. Be careful with this request as you want to find the best way to do this to ensure that you are respecting the company culture. Your boss might have to be the one to ask for this help. And you can have a better chance of meeting your deadline.

4. Ongoing status check ins with the boss. As soon as you start the work required, it’s important to keep your boss informed daily to the amount of work you have accomplished that day. Ask the boss how he or she prefers the communication—by email, in person and/or by phone. Being transparent is key. By keeping your boss in the loop, he or she won’t be blindsided in case you miss the deadline. Remember to focus on what you are doing and not what you are not doing. And if you have to work extra hours to accomplish your daily goals, or the final deadline, I would do so but always let the boss know what you’re doing as well.  

Joanna Samuels, MEd, is an adult educator with an expertise in career/job coaching and community/business partnership building.

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