Crying Wolf: Headlines, Timelines and Deadlines

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Once upon a time, there was an agency headed by a trio of fair ladies. One with hair spun of gold, another with raven waves, and a third with locks of auburn. Under these distress-free damsels, the workers gleefully strived to turn over glorious websites, creative social media posts and captivating design work to their clients. No one ever exceeded deadlines or budget, the traffic coordinator whistled a happy tune all the day long due to never wondering about a project wandering, and they all lived happily ever after.

Mostly.

Do you ever get the feeling that time speeds up when you least expect or need it to? You feel as though you have just walked in the door yet here it is, almost 11 a.m. and you have not come close to checking a thing off your list. I know the struggle well, as I am the one who circulates the hallways of the agency twice daily to “traffic check” with the creative minds and digital gurus of BBR.

I wish I could say people are excited to see me during these checks but, alas, usually there are feelings of doom and gloom and “I have been kept hostage in meetings all day, I will have it to you by the end of the day” tales of woe ready for me. While I smile and nod and reassure, I have learned in my first year of agency life that these brilliant, creative, inspiring minds that I consider myself lucky to work amongst have, well, a bit of a habit of “crying wolf”, for lack of a better term.

If a member of the team claims that they will complete the project by 5 p.m., but then is unable to do so due to any variety of reasons- the item will not get pushed to the next working day. The task will then either be inquired about by the Account Executive the next day, the Traffic Coordinator will then spend time asking why the task wasn’t completed, then re-schedule the item, and time that could have been spent on the next project will then have to be spent making up for lost productivity. It is the perfect storm to change a sunny fairy tale into a story suited to the Brother’s Grimm of the ultimate horror – BILLING LOST TIME TO THE AGENCY.

Keeping track of both where a project travels over the course of a workday and where a project stands against its timeline are two of the main focuses in my position. It is my job to keep a project moving through its respective team members. The enemy is something sneaking through the cracks, or of a well-meaning co-worker passing along a piece of a project without my knowing its status or of the revisions needed.

These issues, as anyone in the industry knows, are not central to our agency alone. Dawn Travelstead of the Traffic Patterns blog suggests to “keep a running total of the time it takes within a given week, for example, for you to track down information.” This can be used to an advantage in the timesheet breakdown of billable work versus what must be charged to the agency. Also, Travelstead suggests a hard approach to maintaining a productive workflow and to not extend timelines without necessity- “…you have to meet deadlines. Period. You have to stay within budget. Period. You have to know who’s doing what (or nothing at all) and when.”

The solution is to never take a promise or guarantee at face value when timelines or deadlines are concerned. It is human nature to want to please co-workers. I am fortunate to work with well-meaning and mostly mild-mannered individuals who both provide incredible work and go out of their way for one another. When the clock is ticking and the day is ending, it is always better to move a task to the next day than to let the sun set on “I will work on it tonight.”

Have other ideas for improving traffic workflow or tips for helping me stay the timeline Fairy Godmother? Send a carrier pigeon to our office, or pen an old-school letter to [email protected].

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