What to Do When Your Grant Timeline Gets Off Track?

When we plan vacations in our family two of us are planners and two of us are fly by the seat of your pants travelers. Over the years we’ve adjusted to half our family’s “need to know where they are going to sleep and find food” with “hey, you never know what great adventure you’ll stumble upon” for the other half.  We have learned to balance the half that creates a detailed, TripAdvisor approved spreadsheet with the desire for the unexpected—-but it has taken some practice. The same can be said for grant timelines. It’s good to layout deadlines and expectations but it’s also important to make room for the unexpected. So here are five points to consider when you discuss possible delays in the grant writing process.


1) If you are working in a grant writing team, talk about how you’ll address delays in the grant timeline before it happens. Come up with agreed upon ground rules and language to address a missed deadline. On a cross-country trip, a friend and I would say “baba ganoush” if we needed to let the other person know that we were getting frustrated. It was a funny word (and favorite food) that helped bring a bit of levity into the situation but also alerted the other traveler that frustrations were mounting.  Discussing the possibility of a delay upfront acknowledges that the timeline might need to be revised throughout the grant writing process and that will make delays less stressful.

2) If you are working alone and go off your timeline reflect on what the hold up is. If procrastination is the enemy, I encourage you to take a look at MindTools, which has a great outline of ways to overcome procrastination: www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_96.htm

3) An heir and a spare. When developing a grant timeline it’s helpful to designate the person in charge as well as someone who can be back up. This rule became very clear to me when I got a call from a team member who was in the emergency room saying they were laid up with a kidney stone. Grant deadlines wait for no kidney stone and a flexible grant timeline that includes back up people makes sure that the grant work continues even in the event a team member encounters an emergency. It also allows the person in the midst of an emergency to take care of what needs to be addressed without worrying, or feeling guilty that the grant work is delayed or in jeopardy.

4) Why the unexpected delay can be helpful. Sometimes a delay, or going off the timeline, can be a good thing. It can be good to have someone take time to get a new perspective, do more research, reach out to a key stakeholder, address a particularly challenging area within the grant in greater depth. All of these “delay” or detours can ultimately be helpful to the process and the final product.

5) The golden rule of a delay in grant writing is to start by giving the person the benefit of the doubt. Don’t let your stress guide the conversation, find out what the issue is and see how it can be helped. That said, perpetual delay or procrastination can bring the entire grant team’s moral down and should be addressed in a constructive, proactive fashion.


Like any good road trip, it’s good to build in room for flexibility and expecting the unexpected is a good thing to consider when developing your grant timeline.

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