Are Self Imposed Deadlines Hurting You?

September 17, 2014

I like deadlines. They clarify the objective and that motivates me. When I’ve got my back against the wall, and the clock is ticking, something comes over me. I hunker down and focus and know exactly what to prioritize.

Some deadlines are fixed by people outside our jurisdiction, (ahhh clients) – we have little control over them, and we have to rework our schedules to make sure we meet the deadline. Other deadlines are created by ourselves. When we have control of the deadline, we can self-impose urgency to ensure that we’re productive and keep a lengthy project on target.

Here’s The Problem

A false deadline –that is, an arbitrary deadline we’ve created for ourselves – can quickly lead to mediocre production. For all the good intentions behind creating deadlines for ourselves, we can unwittingly get hasty, missing strategic opportunities. In the rush to meet a deadline, we can make tactical mistakes that should never have been made.

When a deadline is fixed outside of our control, we can excuse some degree of error in the act of prioritizing for the deadline. You’ve seen it happen: your colleagues look you in the eye and say, “It is what it is. We’ve got to work with what we’ve got. There’s no time to go back and make it perfect.” It’s all well and good in those circumstances, and in the best organizations, those kinds of intense decision points can actually save you from a heck of a lot of unnecessary debate that  slows down the project.

The real problem is that when we set our own false deadlines, we can take those “it-is-what-it-is” moments and live with them as though we don’t have the option of moving a deadline. When you fix a false deadline, it’s easy to sacrifice quality for the sake of production. And that can be detrimental to your organization.

You have to ask yourself: Is this deadline moveable? Are we going to rush in a way that could hurt us? What would happen if we take our time, and move the deadline an hour, a day, even a week? Could we add value to the project that outweighs the delay? Knowing when to ship the project and when to pause the ship is an important skill to hone.