There are few real “deadlines”

We have always had deadlines but in today’s business culture, the timescales seem to be getting shorter and shorter and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything must be done immediately. The shareholders, the directors, the customer can’t wait, and if you don’t do it now you’ve failed!

The word deadline originates from the prison system, where it was used to strike fear into the minds of prisoners – anyone crossing the deadline would be shot!

As fear is a powerful motivator, it is not surprising that the term has been adopted by managers as an alternative to words such as target, goal or objective.  Have you ever wondered why the bosses have targets but the workers have deadlines!

This is not to suggest that deadlines are bad – they are not – but they can be a source of stress if we do not manage them appropriately.

I know a project director whose role was to troubleshoot major dam and power station construction projects in Asia. His ability to withstand pressure was awesome. He’d arrive on site and be confronted with countless demands and issues. Yet he’d never take anything at face value. 

His first approach was to listen, take it all in and question every supposed deadline. He never reacted too quickly and always sought to understand the real need. What was at stake? How could things be rearranged?  How important was it to get it right as opposed to rush through a job? What was the minimum that needed to be delivered to achieve the result?  Naturally, he was not afraid of giving stakeholders news they didn’t want to hear – but he always gave them a solution.

I learnt from him the art of testing assumptions and getting to the heart of the matter to discover the real need.

He also helped me to realise that if you’re forever driven by everybody else’s demands and pressure, you’ll never achieve your own goals and will invariably have a poor work-life balance.

So if you’re feeling under pressure with deadlines, remember that there are only a few real deadlines.  Question them to discover how real they are and make sure that you are clear as to which is the more important, the quality of the result, or the timeliness of its delivery?


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