How to Leverage Deadlines in Contract Management

Napoleon Hill put it best, “Procrastination is the bad habit off putting of until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”

For most enterprises, deadlines are managed using an “out of sight, out of mind” mind frame. We tend to act on the deadlines that are nearest to us. This behavior comes at a cost. Procrastination statistics suggest that 40% of people have experience financial loss due to procrastination. Instead of just reacting to deadlines, contract managers should be more proactive towards them.

In this article we will discuss how to leverage deadlines to streamline your contract management processes.

1. Move Your Deadline Up

If you have ever felt that you do some of your best under the pressure of a looming deadline, you’re not alone. A 2014 study showed that the key step in getting things done is to get started. The sooner that you start working towards a task, the more likely that you’re to complete the task.

Based on this research, your goal striving strategy should be to move up your deadlines to finish the job on time. By reducing the time available to procrastinate, you’re able to use your time more efficiently and meet any deadline.

However, you shouldn’t just set a single-day deadline.

2. Create Deadline Buffers

Every month we diligently mark up deadlines in paper calendars and set up reminder alerts in our digital calendars that trigger a couple days before those deadlines. The challenge with this habit is that it ends piling up deadlines on top of other deadlines that will arrive at the last minute. If you’re in a lucky industry that never gets any last minute projects or deadlines, please let us know what that industry is so all of us contract managers can move there.

A better approach to marking deadlines is to set up a string of days as a deadline, which would better represent the necessary work to meet that deadline. For example, if building an estimate for a digital marketing project requires feedback from several departments and it takes about four days to gather that feedback, then you should mark up your calendar for the four days leading to that deadline. By creating a deadline buffer, way you’re more cognizant of the required work preceding the actual deadline.

3. Set Milestones for Deadlines

Of course, you need to detail what is supposed to happen at every one of those days leading up to the deadline.

Let’s go back to our example of building an estimate for a project that involves several departments. On day one, you could establish that you need the man hours from the graphic design and user experience departments. On day two, you could establish that you need the hours from the IT and quality assurance departments. On day three, you set time to compile the data and verify availability of funds and manpower with the assigned project manager. On day four, you double check numbers and deliver estimate to client.

By setting micro-goals towards a bigger goal, you’re leveraging Adam Smith’s classic concept of division of labor and turning deadlines into more feasible projects. At the same time, setting milestones is a great practice to document steps taken towards a  best efforts clause.

4. Speak Up Against Unrealistic Deadlines

Another important way to leverage deadlines to streamline processes is to strongly oppose unreasonable deadlines. The only reward that you’ll receive from accepting an unreasonable deadline is another unreasonable deadline for the next project.

While you may have to make some compromises over time, it’s a best practice to keep your timeframes consistent. By continuously accepting highly demanding deadlines at the last minute, you’re creating a valid precedent that the unrealistic deadline becomes “timely performance” in the eyes of a court.

Pushing back against unreasonable deadlines is necessary to keep a sustainable operation and the sanity of any team.


To leverage deadlines in contract management,  you need to move deadlines up, create buffers for a deadline, set a series of milestones towards a deadline, and speak up against unrealistic deadlines.