Eight ways to avoid missing deadlines


Whether you’re racing to the finish line or in the thick of it, deadlines can stress out the staff. For spring books, the coming days are imperative. Finish your book or miss delivery day. For fall books, you’re in the middle of production and needing to stay, well, productive.

1. Set mini-deadlines
Having one huge deadline can be overwhelming and misleading. Everyone thinks Oh, I have plenty of time to work on that. It’s weeks away. But time creeps up; before you know it, the deadline is a week away and everyone is in a panic.

To avoid this last-minute disaster, set a deadline schedule with multiple, short deadlines. Consider weekly deadlines with a set amount of work due and progress checks. Have staffers fill out a weekly progress sheet. (Bonus: this is an easy way to add weekly productivity or effort grades.) Give editors autonomy and ownership of the book by having them in charge of mini-deadlines.

As part of each mini-deadline, slice up the final spread into smaller, manageable pieces. Consider requiring only the story be completed by the first deadline so it becomes the primary focus. Or require all secondary coverage and captions completed first. Another option is to have editors decide what percentage of work should be completed by each mini-deadline and translate that percentage into a grade. (Take screenshots or PDFs on deadline days to have references for grading and parent questions.)

2. Make accountability easy
It’s not only on the staffer to complete a spread. Editors and advisers need to be aware of the deadline progress. Having mini-deadlines to section editors and editor in chief will help. But another way to keep track is to openly discuss progress.

This method takes time, but it can radically change work ethic. Pick a day near deadline and assess the work progress publicly. Display spreads one-by-one on a projector and have an editor lead the discussion. Staffers will have their work, or lack of, on display for the entire class. This can be an incredibly motivating way to accelerate progress on a spread.

Be mindful to not be rude or condescending. But use the time to look at what work is done and assess what is missing. It’s also a prime opportunity for staffers to give suggestions and offer headline, story and photo ideas. Consider having a “Display Day” twice a deadline, once early in the progress and again the week before.

Other helpful accountability tools are a planning sheet and a checklist. A weekly progress sheet helps daily accountability, but staffers could benefit from pre-planning. This helps organize ideas for the spread and facilitates discussion with editors on ideas, photos and designs. Another organization aid is a spread checklist. This handout lists all the elements of a spread, allowing staffers to verify they’ve completed all required tasks to meet the deadline. Ideally, have the staffer walk through this checklist early in the process. An editor could verify the elements on the checklist and spread a week later. Ultimately, the adviser will discover fewer mistakes and missing elements with this process.

3. Make everyone aware
It’s amazing how often a lack of communication affects deadlines. Try an experiment: silently have every student in class write down the next deadline date. Also, have them write what pages they’re assigned. How many know their spreads? How many know the due date?

Deadlines should be reiterated ad nauseam. Post them on the board and circle the date on the calendar. Print a list of every spread and staffer assigned on the door. If you have worknights, list the dates and times too. Put reminder Post-it notes on the computers. Have an editor remind the staff during discussions at the beginning of class. It’s imperative everyone on staff is aware of the deadline and completing pages on time.

18_Foster_deadline reminder

Above: A countdown list can help staffers remember an upcoming deadline.

4. Give yourself a cushion
Pages fall behind for all kinds of unforeseeable reasons. Events are canceled, a staffer gets sick, the photos are blurry, a teacher won’t allow an interview. Add in extra time as a buffer, a few days or a week. If the interim deadline is missed, there’s still some cushion to keep pages on track.

Advisers vary on keeping mum on the cushion days. Some find it encourages staffers to procrastinate. Others fill in their editors so they can stay calm. Pleas for extra time can win brownie points for advisers who have secretly added buffer time.

5. Don't go solo
To make deadlines more manageable, consider assigning two or more staffers to a spread. Editors or the adviser can determine responsibilities or the staffers can divvy up the work. Either way, additional hands can take the pressure off and help when unexpected events unfold. The divide and conquer strategy can also play to staffers’ strengths. The stronger writer can tackle the story and captions while the avid photographer can snap great candid photos and mugs.

6. Have a backup plan
Sometimes, nothing comes together for a spread. Sometimes, there’s that one staffer who doesn’t get anything done. At some point, you have to assess the situation and make a decision. If conversations with the delinquent staffer haven’t made an impact, it’s time for backup help. Have an editor step in to finish the spread or ask a diligent staffer who’s ahead to pitch in. In a pinch, journalism students can snag missing quotes and take last-minute pictures. The chance to help might be the needed push to join the yearbook staff next year.

7. Motivate, don't agitate
In stressful situations, tempers can flare. But it’s unlikely that yelling at staffers will motivate them to meet the deadline. Instead, have editors encourage staffers. At the beginning of class, remind everyone of stories, photos and pages due and worknight opportunities. Be positive about getting it done. As the deadline approaches, check in one-on-one with staffers to assess their progress. Make sure editors are helping staffers with problems and not working on their own spreads (strive to have editors work on assignments outside of class so they can devote in-class time to the staff). This strategy goes for advisers too. We shouldn’t be sitting at our desks, answering emails or grading when the yearbook staff is frantically trying to finish a deadline.

17_Vista computer motivationAbove: Notes on the computer encourage students they have the resources and energy to finish deadline.

8. Have fun along the way
One of the best ways to motivate staffers and keep them on deadline is to infuse a little fun into the progress. Play music while they work. Give out cookies as a sweet surprise. Take a 5-minute break from work to have a dance party, rank the best Sonic slushies, or share good news. Ask parents to bring up warm food to keep the staff going during an afterschool work session. Add to the fun by being cheesy with the motivation: hand out Orange Crush so you can “crush” the deadline or Mountain Dew so you can tell the staff, “Let’s dew this!”

Deadlines can be stressful, but they’re not a bad thing. They help you prioritize and get organized. They motivate you to finish work you might be putting off. And they bring staffers together for a shared cause–a finished yearbook.

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