I’m telling you when this should be completed?

Fundamentally, what is a due date? The date something should be completed. Life before work is all about due dates— when this assignment, problem set, essay, project, et cetera should be finished and submitted for assessment. The teacher or professor collects it, takes some time to assess its quality, and re-distributes it to you with a grade. I learned to get work done on time as a wee child and that carried me through school. There’s something that can be oddly gratifying about turning in a deliverable and getting a clear evaluation and assessment of what you did.

Yet working at a young startup is nothing like that. Tasks often pop up sporadically to be completed by whoever has the skillset and bandwidth to complete them, independent of their job title. It makes for an exciting environment for a generalist, as one is presented with opportunities to sharpen a variety of skill sets and contribute to various layers of a business. That excitement didn't make me anymore prepared for what was to come. Reporting to my CEO when I would complete an objective was a shock for me. As you can expect, I was less than exceptional at accurately predicting how long work would take. Here are some tips for my younger self transitioning from college to working at a startup:

  1. Ask for guidance about setting deadlines and dates. Senior management has generally walked a similar path and can offer some insight.
  2. Prioritization matters. Spend your time on the highest leverage deliverables while sneaking in some easy wins from time to time.
  3. Be patient with yourself. Don't sweat missing a due date on a lower priority item because something bigger came up. Adjust accordingly and get back to work.
  4. Turn L's into lessons. This is your first time setting deadlines for anything in life. You will struggle accurately predicting how long some objectives take to complete. File each task away as a data point and get better at predicting your work pace— then strive to work more efficiently.

Setting a due date in Asana or whatever project management tool you use can feel strange at first, but you will get the hang of it. After sliding due dates back a few times, you will get a better sense of how long it should take you to deliver different types of work. Experience and reflection will also lead to a micro and macro sense of the business that should better equip you to plan out entire projects filled with a multitude of tasks. And that's when you get to the real fun!