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The thorn of deadlines… What do you need to do to hit them?

As virtual assistants we juggle multiple deadlines on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis – it’s what we do!  Because we have multiple clients, we have multiple deadlines to hit.  So how do you stay on top of them and make sure you don’t miss anything?  And how do you explain to your client that (whilst he is very important to you), you cannot be available 24 hours a day?

Managing expectations:

Firstly manage the expectations of your client.  Be honest about what you can and can’t do.  A lot of clients get so excited by the prospect of working with a VA, they abdicate all responsibility for their business and dance merrily into the sunset.  That’s not a realistic proposition, and they need to understand that.  If you think it still hasn’t sunk in, send an email to cover your back.

We recently had a client who expected us to work at specific times of day but (because of our schedule with other clients) we couldn’t guarantee the tasks would be done at exact times.  Despite telling her this several times, it just didn’t sink in.  Of course, she was upset when the task wasn’t done the way she wanted.  In hindsight, I should have refused the work because she didn’t understand the way we worked properly.  We have the emails backing up that we’d told her beforehand but the net result was an unhappy client, and that’s what you want to avoid at all costs.

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Build in a margin of error:

Sod’s law is that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.  So don’t leave everything till the last minute because it’s likely that (at the critical moment) the internet will go down, your mum will call “just for a chat” and the simple task you committed to doing will mushroom into a behemoth!

Especially if you are relying on other people to do something, either using outsourcers or a supplier, build in comfortable deadlines with them so you have the work back in good time for your client.  I usually try for at least 6 hours of available working time to check the work and if necessary amend or redo it.  That way even if I’m let down by an outsourcer, my client isn’t let down by me.

Be realistic:

There are only 24 hours in each day.  You spend 8 of them sleeping, maybe 2 hours on everyday admin for your own business (answering emails, checking progress of tasks, opening mail etc), and another couple of hours eating/personal grooming/bathroom visits etc.  So realistically you have maybe 14 hours which you can work in any one day.  My web designer has perfected this up to 18 hours of solid working, but to me that is madness!

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Use a day planner to block out the hours available each day and what tasks you have to complete.  Not only will this keep you on track, it’ll stop you from being overly ambitious about what it’s possible to fit into one day.  For more information on Time Management: SVA Guide to Time Management.


Learn to say no:

This is a really hard one for VAs because we’re helpful people by nature.  But in order to be truly helpful, we must learn to say no.  There’s no point in agreeing to do something and then missing the deadline – you’re guaranteed to annoy the client and potentially lose them.  Tell them realistically when you will be able to do it or simply say no.

For example, we recently took on a project working with our client’s own email software provider – which was truly horrible.  It took us forever to do very simple things like uploading a contact list or removing bounced emails from the system.  Our bill should have been in the region of £25 and it was in the region of £100 for a very simple email campaign.  We refused to use it the second month and showed the client the results she could expect by using a paid-for service provider.  Even with the extra software fees, she still saved about £50 on the previous month’s bill and got a better response to her campaign.

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Let us know if you have issues hitting deadlines or if you have top tips for balancing a hectic workload?


  1. Denise Rutledge on 1 May, 2011 at 11:39 am


    My role as senior administrator within a university was made redundant at the end of August. I took a few months off but since December have been doing some voluntary work in a small business to gain some experience in the small business sector. I have worked for thirty seven years in administration banking; FE and HE sectors. I hold a BA (Hons) Business Management degree and an AAT Accountancy Technician qualification. Whilst I really budget management, I am not into accountancy per se. Having always held a multi-facted role, including management of staff and HR issues, I want to continue in this vein rather than concentrating on one area.

    I have been really inspired to set up on my own on coming across your website but I’m just not sure how to go about it. Where do you start? What are the first steps and where do you find out such information/

    Thanks to anyone who can give me some advice. I would be keen too to join this group.



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