Brace yourself: We take deadlines WAY too seriously

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I’ve written about the idea of deadlines maybe once or twice before — hereand herecome to mind — but as I’ve gotten older and worked with more people, it’s something I’ve understood less and less. Let me outline a few quick things here:

The Friday Deadline: This I perhaps understand least of all. If it’s Friday 11am, I maybe get it a little bit more. But Friday EOD usually means something isn’t getting looked at until Monday afternoon — after the rush of early Monday — or, in all reality, Tuesday late morning. Why rush a person into a deadline of Friday, potentially getting less quality work in the process, if you know no one is going to look at it on Friday? At my last full-time gig, this exact thing happened one Friday when I was supposed to meet my ex-wife for happy hour. Ended up at work till 8pm, and of course, no one reviewed the thing until Tuesday. That’s why “employee experience” kind of sucks. You won’t fix that with software.

The Road Map Issue: Because lots of companies worship Silicon Valley and general tech stuff, we get into this issue where everyone is using “sprints” and “road maps,”which can make deadlines seem intractable — because if you miss one, it pushes out the next stuff. The biggest flaw in the “road map” world is that if you manage a road map shittily, which many companies do, all you do is get shit work all over the road map because everyone is getting rushed as part of their “sprint” that week/month/whatever. It creates a lot of confusion around deadlines. More importantly (and badly) for the company, it creates crappy output.

Why are deadlines intractable? Again, a deadline should have a degree of context to it. This is needed by X-date so Y-person can review it. The reason it needs to be reviewed then is so that Z-thing can happen, then we’ll get moving on A-thing and so on. There needs to be, well, an actual map and process and “why” behind it. There almost never is. Managers handing out deadlines is often like Oprah handing out cars.

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Well, on that last point … check this out:

To better understand this, we conducted 10 experiments and a survey with nearly 10,000 employees and managers in the U.S. We found that, across occupations, asking for more time to work on an assignment was, on average, perceived positively by managers — and it reduced employees’ stress levels and improved their performance. In one survey we did, of 191 employees, we found that 95% of those who asked their manager for a deadline extension received one.

Yep. Deadlines should not be intractable. And, oftentimes, you can get an extension! Makes perfect sense (especially on Fridays).

Now factor in that work stress is a major issue for companies, and this all makes perfect sense too: ease up on the deadline clutch a little bit, and maybe we’ll have a less-stressed, less-prone-to-turnover workforce.

Make sense? Oh, and as for the argument that a world without deadlines would be a world of chaos, I’m not saying get rid of deadlines. I’m just saying ease up on them especially when you know the actual date means nothing.

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