How Unnecessarily Ambitious Deadlines Can Crush Progress

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It is Monday morning and I’ve already had a failure this week. I have a product I worked hard to finish and roll out today, but the pieces didn’t come together on time. It was sometime mid-Sunday, shortly after lunch that I realized I’d have to suck it up and let it go.

What is fascinating is that there was no reason for my new product to launch today. No one, aside from a couple confidants, knew it was going to launch. In fact, my work would probably go on fine without it. Coincidentally, just a few weeks ago, someone in my brain trust suggested I try to let go of “false deadlines”.

A false deadline is a hard stop you give yourself for some nonconsequential reason. It could be to placate your ego, it could be you want to get a project off your plate, it could be you’re just sick of looking at it on the to-do list. The fact is that it actually doesn’t matter: You have no external pressure to perform. It is all internal.

Can you relate? Here’s how I calm myself down when I see myself setting up (and failing) a false deadline.

Where did this deadline come from? If you pause for a second, then you may find the origin of your deadline isn’t even relevant anymore. I’ve worked on projects where the aggressive timeline was based on another department’s needs – yet when the other group pushed its timeline out, we didn’t change ours! The result was us rushing around for quite literally nothing.

When did this deadline become a priority? I’m a big advocate for not waiting until tomorrow to create the life you want, but it is just as important to know today what moves are ideal and what moves are necessary. An ideal goal can sneak into the necessary goal category and, suddenly, the amount of pressure you give yourself to reach this ambitious end is significantly higher. I just wrote a book on productivity and I still struggle with this phenomenon.

What will happen if you don’t meet this goal? This last point is critical, as you have to be able to identify what you fear will happen if you don’t meet this false deadline. You can’t process the anxiety around meeting the deadline if you don’t know what, exactly, you are feeling.

For me, I’m proud of what I’ve created, so missing today’s deadline means I have to wait longer to share it. Disappointing? Definitely. Career threatening? Far from it. And oftentimes, when I have missed a false deadline, opportunities to make the product greater have popped up after the fact – making the temporary pain all the more worthwhile. It’s just a matter of remember this while it is happening.