The Remarkable Power of Deadlines

The Power of Deadlines

There’s nothing like a deadline to harness your energy and focus your resolve. People and teams can move mountains when they come face-to-face with a big, scary, drop dead due date.

I faced one of these deadlines over the Christmas Holidays. Last summer I signed a publishing deal for my second book, and I requested six months to write the manuscript. I figured that was enough time to research and write the book while still maintaining all my day to day responsibilities.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. A very busy travel schedule and an unrelenting workload kept taking my time away from writing. By mid-December I was panicking. The manuscript was due on January 7th and I hadn’t written a word!

Tim Urban gives a brilliant TED Talk called, Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator. He explains, “The Panic Monster is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up when a deadline gets too close or when there’s danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster, or some other scary consequence.”

When a deadline becomes imminent the Panic Monster comes rushing out, takes control of the wheel, and things gets done. It may not be pleasant and it’s definitely stressful, but you are productive.

I love my Panic Monster. I hit my deadline. In the span of 21 days I wrote the entire manuscript. I don’t know how and it definitely wasn’t fun, but it got done.

Deadlines are incredible tools to achieve results. It may not be pretty or pleasant, but a deadline demands a deliverable. On the other hand, what truly scares me and keeps me up at night are strategies and priorities that don’t have a deadline.

Without a deadline the “distraction monkey” and the tyranny of busy work are deadly. Days and weeks can slip by and there’s no perceived consequences — other than you delay achieving your goals and strategies.

That inertia and loss of time may be one of the biggest threats to your business.

The question is how do you increase awareness and accountability for a project that doesn’t have a defined timeline? The answer is to create a deadline.

I like to frame goals using a simple formula, “From X to Y by When.”

  • X represents the current state
  • Y represents the intended outcome
  • When is the timeframe

For instance, “Improve on-time delivery from 65% to 95% by July 31, 2019.”

Improving throughput (on-time delivery) is an example of a priority or strategy that may be important, but is easy to lose in your team’s day-to-day busyness. Yes, increasing throughput means more profit, higher revenue, and increased customer satisfaction. Everyone can acknowledge and agree to why the business needs to focus on improving it. But when you’re busy and there’s something else that needs your attention right now, a priority without a deadline can get pushed aside.

That’s why we need to trick our primitive brains into performance mode.

When a priority is framed as a goal with clear targets and due dates it shifts behaviors, especially when there’s a bonus or financial reward for achieving that goal. This is a form of deadline. It creates a sense of urgency with risks and rewards, and that gets the Panic Monster working for you.

Wherever and whenever possible, create deadlines. You can move mountains when you come face-to-face with a big, scary deadline.

Stay tuned for more to come on the new book in the coming weeks. It’s a graphically designed business book on brand naming. It will launch in September 2019. Send me an email if you’d like to join the Insider Team: [email protected]. It’s going to be fun!