A good deadline makes things happen

I’ve been in a time crunch the last few days on a big project.  Thursday is the absolute deadline.  If my team and I do not make our deadline, we’ll let an important customer down and there is a financial consequence.

With this hanging over our heads, we’ve made more progress in the last couple days than we’ve made in the last month, and we’re going to make this happen even in the midst of the holiday season.

That’s the power of a good deadline; it makes things happen. 

You can increase your success in life by improving how you set and manage deadlines. They can also give you a significant advantage in a world where many people ignore their importance.  The best part though is it doesn’t take much effort to develop an approach to deadlines that works well.

Three Kinds of Deadlines

  • Soft Deadlines – These are the most the common deadlines. They are due dates with no bite.  They get moved out with zero consequence.  The problem is that often soft deadlines actually have a real consequence, but we aren’t aware of what they are until it’s too late. Miss deadlines frequently, and others stop trusting you and I.
  • Deadlines with a reward – These deadlines come with a positive incentive. This is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.  When you make your deadline perhaps you reward yourself or your team with day off, a trip to the spa, a fishing trip, or a nice dinner.
  • Deadliness with a consequence – A deadline with a consequence is the most effective kind of deadline, and it’s the most closely related to the origin of the word. Historians agree the term “deadline” first appeared during the prison camps of the American Civil War. If prisoners stepped over the deadline of the camp border areas, the guards were instructed to shoot. That’s a deadline with consequence.

9 Strategies for Setting a Successful Deadline

  1. Set your deadline first – Set your deadline before you even start working on the project so it’s clear what you’re working towards.
  2. Determine what “done” looks like – Many deadline mistakes occur because the parties aren’t clear on what completion actually looks like. Be specific on the details –  the date, time, time zone, length, format, etc.
  3. Attach it to the bigger picture – In the midst of other deadlines why is this deadline important? Why should it take priority over others? Projects often build on one another; and if you miss your deadline, it might mean someone else will miss theirs.
  4. Assign a consequence or reward – Give your deadline some bite by creating a reward or consequence.
  5. Remember patience – Like anything in life, establishing, managing, and achieving deadlines takes practice. If you and your team aren’t accustomed to this, be patient as you transition your work flow.
  6. Set micro-deadlines – After you’ve set your deadline, break it down into smaller deadlines. This will drive accountability into the process and help keep you on target.
  7. Remind yourself – Use creative ways to remind yourself of your big deadline by putting reminders in a can’t miss location like above your desk, computer monitor, or calendar.  Better yet, write it on a post-it note that you can rip up after you achieve it!
  8. Remind others – Just because you remember your deadline, it doesn’t mean other key players will. Create a reminder on your calendar to periodically check-in.
  9. Renegotiate early if needed – If you’re going to miss a deadline, it’s always better to communicate that early and attempt to renegotiate the due date. The closer you get to the deadline, the more difficult it is renegotiate.

Now review your project list and consider strengthening it using one or more of the strategies above.

Notice the positive impact on your results.


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