The word “deadline” is overused in modern jargon. I’ve been hearing it everywhere, all the time. Yet, we are so bad at meeting deadlines, especially self-imposed ones. Often we are forced to hustle to meet a deadline that wasn’t realistic to start with, which brings half-assed results. Everyone got caught off-guard by a mistaken deadline at least once, either at work or in their personal life. Why are we so bad at this? Why do we so often over-promise and under-deliver?
How did it start?
I was curious how the world coined the term dead + line. This is what a quick Google search returned me:
Deadline (n.) “time limit,” 1920, American English newspaper jargon, from dead (adj.) + line (n.). It was perhaps influenced by earlier use (1864) to mean the “do-not-cross” line in Civil War prisons, which figured in the trial of Henry Wirz, commander of the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia.
Interesting story nonetheless. Moving fast forwards – we have a word overused and abused by management and often tied to a date that’s way too early to give us enough time to finalize the project properly.
Why do we tend to set unrealistic deadlines?
In short, we set unrealistic deadlines because we feel like we have to. We are either pressed by clients and management or driven by an inflated ego. Perhaps, we suck at planning, but more often, that’s not the case. By placing a deadline, we believe in a myth that we’ll somehow work faster and better and deliver more.
It usually ends another way around.
Critical components to form a realistic deadline
Evaluate your project by taking a look at these four components before placing a deadline:
Conditions — How much time do you have in the first place? How big/versatile/dynamic is your team? What’s the project about? What’s the market trend?
Expectations — Is anyone involved informed about the project scope, deliverables, and conditions?
Experience — How much experience do you or your team have in dealing with issues you’re about to work on?
Consequences — What’s the consequence of missing or extending the deadline? Does everyone realize them?
Do you need deadlines?
Deadlines, especially if poorly set, make people feel rushed to complete the work within the fixed period. This often leads to mistakes and a significant decline in creativity, forcing us to limit our approaches to fixing the problem we are working on.
While deadlines give us structure, I advise you not to place them IF you don’t need them strictly. And, especially, don’t use them as a motivator to work faster. Instead, focus on building the system, workflows, and standard procedures to boost your long-term productivity.
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