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

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.

Over to you: How do you create effective deadlines?

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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