Winning the Business

From Dates to Deadlines

How a proposal professional views a calendar

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When I was younger, I used to view time as most people do—a forward progression of days, weeks, and months. The calendar was a simple tool that I used to keep my days organized.

But something changed when I became a proposal professional. I don’t look at the calendar the same way when I’m juggling multiple proposals simultaneously and trying to meet ever-changing delivery schedules. In the proposal world, dates have been replaced by deadlines, moments by milestones, and observances by extensions. Instead of viewing time in a forward manner, I now take the reverse approach. I begin with the proposal due date and work backward to ensure that all the necessary steps are completed in time to meet the proposal’s deadline.

It’s a Matter of Time

For example, let’s take a regular day on the calendar: June 21. Someone who is not in the proposal world might look at June 21 on a calendar and think:

  • It’s a Wednesday.
  • It’s the first day of summer.
  • It’s my niece’s birthday.

But as a proposal professional, I don’t think those thoughts when looking at the calendar. Instead, I’m thinking:

  • It’s the day that hard copies of Proposal A are due, so I must mail them on June 20, which means I need everything wrapped up by June 19.
  • It’s the day before vendor questions for Proposal B are due, so I must send a reminder email to the subject matter experts (SMEs) to see if they have any more questions to ask the prospect.
  • It’s two days before RFP C is scheduled to hit, so I must register our company on the sourcing site to ensure that we will receive the RFP.
  • It’s one week before Proposal D is due, so I should check in with that new SME to see if he or she is making sufficient progress writing his or her bio according to company specs.
  • It’s the day that responses to follow-up questions for Proposal E are due, so I must finalize our answers and email them to the prospect before 5 p.m. EST.

In the proposal world, dates have been replaced by deadlines, moments by milestones, and observances by extensions.

Dates on the Calendar Are Closer Than They Appear

Looking at the calendar in reverse is essential when developing an effective proposal schedule. By planning your workload in advance, you will work more efficiently, increase your productivity, and decrease stress.

  1. Upon receiving an RFP, take note of the important due dates (e.g., the date that the intent is due, the date that vendor questions are due, the date of the mandatory pre-proposal meeting, and the proposal due date).
  2. Break the proposal process down into smaller tasks, estimate how much time is needed for each task, and then work backward to establish a deadline for each activity. The estimation process can be challenging but experience is the best teacher. Look to past proposal schedules for guidance and lessons learned.
  3. Always add some extra time into the schedule as a contingency allowance for the unexpected. You never know when that all-important SME will come down with the flu and you’ll need some time to get his or her replacement up to speed.
  4. Review the schedule frequently and revise as needed. Proposal schedules must be nimble enough to react to unforeseen circumstances.

It’s not always easy viewing a calendar through the distorted lens of a proposal professional, but viewing time backward does have its benefits. It has disciplined my mind to think ahead and be prepared. I always finish my Christmas shopping early, I’m never late for dinner, and proposal deadlines aren’t so daunting.

Christine DeFinis, CP APMP, CAPM, is a proposal development strategy director at Premise Health, a direct health care access company. She can be reached at

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