DeadlinesThis month has been a month of deadlines. ‘Deadlines’ is such a strange word – the idea that you can kill a mark drawn between two points is just a little odd, but there again that is the English language for you, a little odd.

Deadlines are a critical component of any meaningful goal. Or are they? Deadlines are one of the main causes of stress, both in the workplace and in our personal lives. Excessive stress results in procrastination, and potentially even in illness. Frequent crushing deadlines are often part of a macho management culture, but rarely part of a well managed company. All of that said, a little stress is useful in keeping us motivated.

So, deadlines in moderation then? Look at the things on your to do list that don’t seem to get done. Those ones that seem to shuffle from one list to another and roll on and on. Think about the goals that you have had for years, but never achieved. Is there any pattern? It is a reasonable bet that they didn’t have meaningful deadlines.

Deadlines act as checkpoints, showing us where we have succeeded and where we need to rethink. Goals and tasks with deadlines provide the ability to measure our progress, for better or for worse.

I remember seeing a coffee mug on someone’s desk with the slogan “I love deadlines, especially the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” We can ponder what the mug tells us about its owner, but it does make people chuckle, in that ‘awkward home truth’ so of way. The fact is that making and sticking to deadlines is an essential skill. If you don’t have someone that assigns deadlines for you, then assign your own.

If you are delegating a task, it is good management practice to ask “when do you think you can have that done by?” It should be sensitively asked, as it can create a pressure, but it does get people to realistically think through their ability to take on the task. Watch their reaction, it provides vital feedback. Use the same technique with yourself. What is a reasonable deadline? How do you feel about that deadline?

If a deadline seems unrealistic , then speak up. It is all to easy to end up with the deadlines we deserve, rather that the realistic ones that we need to be productive. Ask about the reasons behind the deadline too, sometimes they can be highly informative.

Continued in Part II

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