The Power of Deadlines


I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that April 15 is almost here. It means that in a couple of days I will be able to check one more item off of my to do list.

I had started my taxes back in mid-February and got about 80% of the way through completing my return, but then I put it aside, and just like that, I’m rushing to get them done before the deadline. If the April 15 deadline didn’t exist, who knows when I would finish my taxes.

I recently stayed up quite late a couple of weeks ago so that I could meet a March 31 deadline for submitting an article for review. Without having that cutoff date, I probably would have finished the article at a much later date.

Knowing that I need to post something to my blog every day by midnight so that I can keep my streak going forces me to start getting something down on paper by no later than 10:00 at night. (I long for the day when I finish my blog by 7:00 each morning – but it looks like that might have to wait until the summer.)

I could go on and on about how deadlines force me to accomplish something by a certain date or time. The deadlines are even more effective if they are set by an external party, there’s little or nothing you can do to influence the deadline, and there are consequences if you miss the deadline. For example if you want to catch the 6:45 am train into Philadelphia, you better be at the train station by then or you will miss the train.

On the other hand, if you just set an artificial deadline for yourself, such as cutting the grass by Thursday, I find that it is much easier to miss such deadlines. I think one of the reasons that personally imposed deadlines are not taken as seriously is that there are likely no consequences associated with missing such deadlines. Externally imposed deadlines have real consequences if you miss them, such as a penalty from the IRS or arriving late at work because you missed the train

Obviously willpower and commitment make it easier to stick to a personally established deadline, such as blogging every day  or when you want to cut your lawn. But such deadlines may be more effective if you share them with others, and assess yourself some consequences if you miss the deadline.

That is one of the reasons I post my daily writing to my web site, and then announce it on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a very public way of sharing my goal/deadline of posting something every day, and the world (well, 3 people maybe) would know if I missed a day. The feeling that I had let myself down if I missed a day  would be the personal consequence of missing such a deadline.

My brother-in-law is a farmer, and I’ve always been amazed at his work ethic. I think part of the reason that farmers work so hard is that they don’t have much choice; many of their “deadlines” are imposed upon them. The cows have to be milked every day, and Mother Nature sets many other deadlines such as when to plant and when to harvest. If the farmer misses such deadlines, the consequences could be devastating.

I think all of us could be much more productive if we could find ways to impose such deadlines on ourselves.

So thank you to whoever invented the clock and the calendar; they might be considered the greatest motivational tools of all time.

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