Deadlines Often Backfire

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The very word deadline is overdramatic because in business nobody dies when the line is crossed. We all miss deadlines; life goes on, so why worry? Humour the boss, agree to the deadline if you must, avoid it if you can, do your best, or don’t even try, it makes little difference. That attitude is all too frequent. Many bosses will bury their heads in the sand and deny it, but it is a common scenario. Frequently, managers set deadlines simply to put pressure on their people to get the job done more quickly. But be warned, deadlines frequently backfire. Imagine yourself in this situation. You lead a department within a large organization. The CEO sets you an objective. He wants this achieved by end next week. It seems practical and so you agree. Or, at least, you don’t say that you may not be able to achieve his deadline. You’re not worried; it’s not too much work for your team. However as you get into the detail of the job you find that in order to complete the task you need another department to supply essential information. Snag!



Do set deadlines when you think you have direct control over all the people and resources necessary to complete the job, and you can make a reasonably accurate assessment of how long the job should take.
  • Don’t set deadlines when you need to achieve objectives that rely upon the cooperation of people outside your control. Instead, set targets and objectives but not with deadlines
  • Do encourage higher productivity by making the targets and deadlines stretching, but achievable
  • Don’t let your desire for productivity lead you to lose touch with reality
  • Don’t set artificial deadlines for truly original creative work, but do engender enthusiasm and urgency
  • When you need to achieve a major objective that requires the cooperation of people outside your control, break down the major objective into mini-objectives. Consider setting realistic but stretching deadlines for each of the mini-objectives that fall within your area of control.
  • If you want your team to feel motivated by the deadlines that you set, then you must personally demonstrate that you don’t just pluck them out of thin air.
Be optimistic but realistic. Never set, or accept a deadline in haste. Think and plan.

About the author


Glenn is a project manager / mad scientist who keeps crazy and extraordinary ideas around. He never stops trying to invent new formulas. He leads the team with enthusiasm and actively ensures everything runs on track, responds to account inquiries, and recruit new talents. Breaking a deadline is a sin…

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