“Deadlines are great for customers because having one means they get a product, not just a promise that someday they’ll get a product.”— Jason Fried

There is a certain level of anxiety that bubbles up for people when they set deadlines for a project. For a number of clients, I see their anxiety turn into fear, not only when setting said deadlines, but actually while working towards them as well.

Fear not.

Deadlines are tools that clarify the mind and simplify the work. Deadlines focus the attention of the team around what must be done. Where deadlines exist, so too can procrastination. Procrastination can take many forms including ideas for new features or the desire to add a new methodology or tool. The exceptional deadline helps focus the mind away from procrastinatory endeavors and toward the goal.

For deadlines to be a powerful tool they must at least meet the following three criteria.

The deadline is associated with a significant meaningful goal.  
If the deadline is arbitrary with no reason behind it, the deadline will have no power. It will be paper thin and make very little sound when it goes floating into the past on your calendar.  Missed deadlines that cost revenue, prestige, or are in any way personally painful will have the power and impact you need.

Fit within the laws of physics.
Giving an impossible deadline, even if meaningful, should be an obvious exercise in futility. I am fine with aggressive deadlines, even deadlines that are frighteningly hard. In fact, I like those. But remember to make commitments you can confidently keep.

There is a plan to achieve.
I love creating scary deadlines, as I just mentioned. However, I am not satisfied until the team has a plan that I believe in – and more importantly, one they believe in.

Powerful, meaningful deadlines are great tools to help people achieve amazing things.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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