Life Hacks

Deadlines, friend or foe?

wrote this on July 28, 2014
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Without a doubt having a deadline can push us to outdo ourselves by virtue of the deadline’s presence alone.

There are usually four questions that we ask ourselves when confronted with deadlines:

  1. What will happen if I miss it?
  2. How far away is the deadline?
  3. Will I be able to finish this project before the deadline?
  4. What can I do in the meanwhile to promote other things?

Those questions reflect the inner conflict we’re in and create more stress…

  • On one hand, we’re stressed and fear the consequences of not performing according to what is expected from us.
  • On the other, we’re excited because someone marked a target in front of us and it serves as a challenge.
  • And last but not least, we’re thinking about the possibility that we might miss the deadline yet we’re still entertaining the possibility of doing “other things”…

We’re most of the time oblivious to this inner conflict.  As a result, it creates unnecessary stress that we could easily avoid by simply understanding how deadline affect us.

Let’s first understand why we miss deadlines

Our time perception is subjective. Time perception is a construction of the brain that can be manipulated and distorted due to a variety of elements and environmental conditions.

There aren’t two people who perceive time the same way, your perception of time may vary according to the time of day, place you’re in, and what you’re doing.

Gabriela M. Jiga-Boy of Swansea University in Wales studies the relation between effort and time perception. According to a study she conducted, even the difficulty of a task might distort our perception of time.

According to the study’s conclusions:

“Tasks that the students judged as complex and difficult like planning a wedding or an elaborate vacation seemed more distant than did less demanding activities. In other words, our minds translate complexity and effort into time: a demanding task requires more time to complete, so its completion must be farther off.”

That’s why we procrastinate complex projects to the last possible minute!

Simply imposing a deadline—whether it was two or eight months away—reversed the mind’s relation between work and time. Faced with a deadline, volunteers saw difficult and complex tasks as looming all too close.”

This means that the fact a task is difficult won’t push us to perform it, quite the contrary; we reason that since it is complex, we can probably postpone it.

But, once a deadline is introduced, our perception changes and we start working on the task, no matter the task’s magnitude or complexity.

Set the right kind of Deadline

Clarity: As I mentioned before, the way we perceive time is not like others perceive it. If you demand something ASAP, you’re probably not going to meet someone else’s expectations.

The problem with ASAP is that it’s subjective and therefore it’s not a deadline. It is bound to cause a clash of expectations between the parties.  Rather than using “ASAP”, state a specific deadline.

Realistic: The truth is that deadlines excite us. Projects that have deadlines refine the mind, and as a result, produce more outside the box thinking according to Adam Savage from Mythbusters.

Setting impossible deadlines is also exciting, as I mentioned before – we have this competitive drive in us that propels us to reach the deadlines in the first place and it acts like a challenge.

But, according to Meridian Health Plan CIO Tom Lauzon:

“When you finish a project with an unrealistic deadline, your reward is another project with another unrealistic deadline.”

The gist is that it’s all cool and exciting but it’s not scalable.  Deadlines should be scalable and sustainable. Without a realistic approach for achieving them in a consecutive manner, you’re bound to miss them and get even more stressed.

Ultimately, deadlines are useful and should be used to fight procrastination and lame excuses for not getting things done.  However, if the deadline is not clear or unrealistic, then procrastination and excuses will win the day!

Until next time.

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