Eight tips for beating deadlines

Deadlines illustration by Luke Bott

In a recent survey of creative professionals conducted by Hightail, we found that an astonishing 34% of people had missed a deadline in the past 12 months. Yet this figure is not that remarkable when you consider how complex creative projects are these days.

To make an impact in today’s world of multimedia multitasking, brands need to run campaigns across multiple channels, which requires developing TV commercials, websites, social media presence, digital assets and more. All these moving parts require larger teams (73% of our survey respondents are working in teams of up to nine people), which means different – occasionally conflicting – processes and tools.

Completing projects on time requires careful planning and clear thinking. These eight tips for beating deadlines can help you prepare for your next project and get it across the finish line on time without pulling too many all-nighters.

1. Be clear about priorities
Where does this project fit in with everything else your business is doing? You need to know that hitting this deadline is enough of a priority for you to dedicate the required time or pull in resources from other teams. The same goes for your client. You’ll need them to provide feedback and approvals so you should be clear about how big a deal this deadline is for them.

2. Build in extra time for problems
Ever worked on a project where at least one thing didn’t go wrong? Thought not. When discussing deadlines, don’t forget to include ‘time to fix screw ups’ in with your development and production stages, as well as at the end so you can proof the final product for mistakes, glitches and bugs. It’s better to underestimate and over-deliver than the other way round.

Hightail illustration - expiration dates3. Communicate firm dates
Once you’ve passed the negotiation stage, lock the date in and don’t assume it can be changed. Make sure everyone involved in the project is aware of the ultimate deadline – write it on whiteboards and include it in every email and project file. Even a contractor brought in to complete a small task should understand their impact on getting the overall project completed on time.

4. Get approvals early and often
Make sure you know who has ultimate approval on the project. That’s not just your immediate contact at the client or internal department. Who do they report to and will that person need to provide the final sign-off? Get their approval for your ideas at each stage of the project. You don’t want the ultimate approver’s first look at your work to happen as the deadline looms.

5. Use technology
The right digital tools can help you manage projects and collaborate more effectively. Trello is a great way to break down a project into stages and tasks. Hightail will improve your creative review process by helping you collect feedback and get approvals faster. If you need to track everyone’s time (without getting in their way) try Harvest.

Approvals for Spaces by Hightail

6. Accept that perfection is nearly impossible
In his book Creativity Inc., president of Pixar, Ed Catmull, explains how important deadlines are to the animation studio. The creative process for a Pixar movie is driven by a release date and they like to say that their movies are never finished, just released. Do your best to produce quality work but an approaching deadline is the time to stop tinkering and start completing.

7. Push yourself to meet it
Sometimes everything goes wrong and you miss a deadline – it happens. Just make sure that you failed honorably. Your team better have pulled a few late shifts and tried your best to get to the finish line as D-day approached. If everyone was still casually clocking out at 5PM, you won’t receive sympathy from anyone when you fail to meet the deadline.

8. Plan a reward
When the pressure is on and your team is working hard to hit a deadline, it’s nice to have something to look forward to when it’s all over. It’s the project equivalent of having a summer vacation booked in the depths of winter. So plan a meal out, session at the bowling alley or some fun activity where your team can unwind and celebrate the completion of another on-time project.

These eight tips should help your team beat its next big deadline. If you have advice you’d like to share, feel free to tell us in the comments below.


  1. So many of us “creatives” find it counter-intuitive to work in a deadline induced environment, but in the end this is what separates the amateur artist from the pro. These are great tips for bringing talent to the business forefront!

  2. Firm brief and establish printer/production deadlines from the
    beginning, these are essential for both you and your client. There is nothing like a deadline to concentrate the mind, get the creative juices flowing and stop the tinkering!

  3. “…so can proof the final product for mistakes, glitches and bugs.” Nice Freudian slip. BTW, I missed a deadline reading this article, just kidding.

  4. Of all the places to have an error. Thanks for spotting that – now fixed.

    Should we add a ninth tip? Stop reading productivity articles and get on with your work.

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