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Agreeing on Deadlines With Yourself Just Doesn’t Work: Here’s What Does

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Agreeing on Deadlines With Yourself Just Doesn’t Work: Here’s What Does

A piece of advice that I have heard many times over is to set deadlines with yourself. In other words, when you are working on a task, you then agree on a deadline that you are trying to keep. This in turn should help you to finish the task in time.

Let me ask you this, however: How many times you have set these kinds of deadlines only to realize that you weren’t able to keep them? Or, how many times have you postponed or changed that very deadline till a later date since you realized you can’t get the task done because the deadline was unrealistic? I don’t know about you, but this has happened to me many times and I have come to the conclusion that negotiating and setting deadlines just with yourself is doomed to fail.

The problem is that it’s so easy change and postpone the deadlines rather than trying your hardest to get the work done within the defined boundaries. If this is the case, what is actually causing us to neglect those deadlines we set this way?

You are not feeling the pressure

The answer to this question is simple: you keep the deadlines to yourself and no one else knows about them.

The problem with this approach is that it’s easy to make changes to the original plan since you are the only person to know about it. Without any external feedback or pressure toward yourself, making those changes is very effortless. Unfortunately, this is just cheating yourself and that can lead to unnecessary procrastination, which in turn makes things more difficult for yourself and accomplishing a task becomes harder and harder.

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This is too bad, since the noble idea of a deadline is now turned upside down: Rather than setting the boundaries to your work and getting them done in a timely manner, the task keeps hanging on your task list unnecessarily.

So you think that others are criticizing you?

When I consider the situations when I have set the deadlines with myself (which I wasn’t then able to keep), I can think of at least three core reasons for doing so:

  • I didn’t want to feel external pressure
  • I wasn’t sure if I was able to finish the task in time
  • I felt that others could criticize me if I didn’t deliver the task within the set boundaries

First, announcing a deadline publicly makes you more exposed to external pressure. In other words, other people expect that you will fulfill the promise of getting something done before the deadline. If this pressure is just too much to handle, you try to avoid it.

Secondly, you may feel unconfident about your own capabilities of delivering a task within a timeframe. This is especially true if you really don’t know the task well or that you don’t have the necessary skills to perform it.

Thirdly, no one wants to be criticized or yelled at if the work isn’t delivered on time. Keeping the deadline to yourself is easier, since you are the only one who knows about it.

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Stretching your comfort zone

In order to get rid of the inefficiencies of internally-negotiated deadlines, you should just do the opposite: be open about them and announce the deadlines to the world. Only in that way can you expect better results, and it makes you try harder to deliver the tasks on time. Even though this may seem scary to some, you should do it anyway. That’s the only way of overcoming the continuous postponing and cheating on yourself with deadlines, which you are not going to meet.

Before you announce anything to the world, understand that you have less time than you think. When you realize this, it helps you to set more realistic deadlines, thus diminishing the fears that you have towards setting the public timeframes. Also, when you are realistic about your own skills and understand what the task is really all about, and then giving more accurate schedules becomes easier.

Deadlines the right way

1. Analyze your situation thoroughly. Before setting the deadlines, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the actual amount of time that I have?
  • How much work do I really have to do?
  • What is my skillset related to the task and the deadline?

Be very realistic with the answers, since this lays the foundation for good solid deadlines. If you have any doubts about your own skills, about the task, or the time available, it’s time to be more conservative on what you promise.

2. Less is more. Decide the goal you want to reach, but be aware of promising too much. As mentioned, you have less time on your hands than you think and time literally flies when you get down into your work.

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Taking a slightly more conservative approach is better than trying to promise too much. Getting less work done in this case is better than explaining later why you weren’t able to get everything done that you so boldly promised to do.

3. Take external factors into account.  Understand that there are factors which decrease the amount of time you have for the task and for meeting the deadline.

For instance, if you promised to do a task for your boss within five days, but you are travelling on Monday and you have meetings all Tuesday, all of a sudden you have only three days to do the task. Take these external causes into account when deciding on the public deadline for your work.

4. Be honest with yourself (and others). This point is absolutely crucial.

For instance, when I was at my day job and I was assigned a task which I wasn’t skilled to do, I let my boss or project manager know about it. This way, I wasn’t setting unrealistic expectations and everyone knew what the real situation was.

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5. Announce the deadline to the world.  Once you have all the background work done, it’s time to publicly announce your deadline. This makes you really try to meet the deadline and postponing it becomes harder and harder.

When you announce your schedule, make yourself accountable—for instance, towards to your blog’s visitors, e-mail list subscribers, your friends, your spouse, your colleagues and your boss, your mastermind group, or your coach.

6. Learn from failure. If you still happen to miss a deadline, analyze why it happened. Just calmly figure out the reasons that lead to missing it and use that experience the next time when you set another deadline.

Conclusion

There are times when keeping a deadline to yourself is justified, but if you have an important task that you want to get done, announcing the deadline to the world is a better option (especially if this task takes you closer to your big goals). For instance, I’m writing a productivity book right now and I have already announced to my e-mail subscribers (and anyone who I talk with), that this book is going to be published on October 22nd, 2013.

This way, I will make sure to really meet the deadline and get everything done before that date.

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Over to you: How do you create effective deadlines?

More by this author

Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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