Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deadlines matter

Here's the headline on a story in today's Winnipeg Free Press:


The story says that, under a new provincial policy effective February 1, 2011, [high school, I assume] teachers in Manitoba "will be allowed to dock students marks for late or missing work."

Congratulations (better late than never!)

In the Creative Communications program here at Red River College, where I teach PR, many instructors have a zero tolerance policy on late assignments. If it's due by 9:00 and you hand it in at 9:01, it's late, and you get an F -- even if the work is brilliant.

Harsh? Maybe. Do we need to do this to instil professional attitudes towards work? For some students, you bet we do. (The others are well-organized, and would hand in their work on time whether there was a strict deadline policy or not.) Either way, we're generally the last stop between these students and the professional workplace; it's a far less painful lesson to learn here than out there, where it counts.

There's a bit of a learning curve on this one with some people, and I don't blame them: I blame the system that has raised them to think deadlines are optional. I can't tell you how many students who've entered our program with undergraduate degrees in hand, have told me they've never been penalized for late assignments.

What's the big deal?

The big deal is that, once you get into the working world (in PR, but I'm sure in many if not most other professions), deadlines matter immensely. And if you haven't had to train yourself to organize your work and manage your time, you're going to have a tough go of it (and potentially lose some great opportunities) because you're unreliable.

The 6:00 news can't start at 6:02.

A proposal due at 2:00 won't be accepted at 2:01.

A job interview may well be cancelled if the interviewer enters the lobby to greet you and finds you're not there on time.

As it happens, I was writing this post as the "Solo PR" chat (a forum for freelance PR folks) was happening on Twitter. Here's one tweet that turned up on my desktop as I was writing:

Even when your deadline doesn't involve a timed broadcast, or an acceptance deadline for a proposal, or an important interview, in PR you have to be on time for everything.

Why? It's not just about showing that you have your act together and are reliable: it's also about showing that you recognize the value of other people's time.

Want to be taken seriously and have credibility as a professional? The first step is to be on time. Always, with everything. Being late for a professional commitment can be humiliating, I've learned (the hard way).

It's never too early

I could never quite believe our educational system had a policy against penalties for late submissions, but now that it's been overturned, all I can say is "phew." I realize that high school is not college or university - but it is where we're supposed to learn all the foundational lessons we'll need to be productive adults (besides the lessons we need to learn at home, that is).

While I'm not a science or math guy particularly, I fully appreciate the value of forcing students to get a well-rounded education before choosing a specialty to build on.

But if you want to know which topics I think are most vital to professional success, time management would be near the top of the list.


  1. I have to say, the biggest adjustment I had to make when coming to Red River was the harsher deadline rules... not that I was late with my work in University, but when there was a penalty added to the rules it created some adrenaline pumping possibilities.

  2. Thank you!! I am the biggest stickler on tardyness. However, being a tardyness stickler can be tough as many people don't see the harm in being late for meetings, gatherings, class and/or missing deadlines. This includes family members/friends/coworkers!
    Listen up people, Tardy=Tacky!...I blame

  3. Great post! I've been obsessive about being on time for everything for my entire life. My parents taught me the importance of being on time, so I don't think I've ever handed in an assignment late, or even showed up late for a class. Lateness is not a trait that I tolerate in others, as well.

  4. Since school has started I have noticed that I get so annoyed at family and friends who are late for something! lol...

  5. This is exactly the conversation I've been having with my mother (a grade 4 teacher) for months! We both agree that you have to start young when it comes to creating priorities and standards for your work. When I went through high school there was only one teacher that would dock marks for being late, and it would infuriate me when everyone else would hand in assignments, hours or even weeks behind and get the same mark as me. I think this is a fantastic step to putting our students in the right direction for post-secondary schooling and employment.

  6. In my personal life I can admit that I am RARELY on time - the first step is admitting you have a problem. But my life in CreComm is teaching me how to be on time. I think I can honestly say I've only handed in an assignment late once. While I may never be on time in my personal at least I will always be on time in my professional life. Thank you CreComm!

  7. I need deadlines. A fixed ending to something is necessary for me to sleep at night. This way at least there is an end in sight.
    And also because I highlight deadlines with in pink in my agenda. I find them less stressful that way.
    Thumbs up CreComm. :O)

  8. When I receive an assignment, I usually try to start on it right away. I also give myself a "fake" deadline that is a few days ahead of the real deadline. This usually works quite well.

    I have, on occasion, been told that I am "too organized." I don't care. Handing something in late doesn't work for me, and hopefully my organization will stand out in the long run.

  9. My parents did a great job raising me up (and my other 7 siblings, too). We had deadlines- day in, day out. To be well disciplined is pretty much a way of life for me. Deadlines are a necessity esepcially for a mom like me- having to juggle priorities both left and right.

    The CreComm program is excellent and I appreciate the fact that there's a 'no tolerance' policy to tardiness. We also appreciate you as our instructor, Melanie! We try and do our best in everything we do (including deadlines) and you also set a good example to all of us. Pat yourself on the back- you deserve it :)

  10. In case anyone from the Province is reading, the comments above are all from students who've lived by the "on time or flunk" policy. As you can see, they're doing just fine (and even agree with it!).

    Thanks for all your thoughtful comments, guys!

  11. "Deadlines are liberating." - William F. Buckley