employeeconversation1‘Are deadlines good for productivity?’

‘Don’t fall into the common trap of wrongly estimating the time a project will take.’

‘Thinking about a ticking clock can make you stressed and unproductive.’


Take on this thought:-

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

The Economist, 1955


Parkinson’s quote has become a common complaint among the very busy.  Sixty years on, many of us still find it difficult to plan ahead and finish tasks before the last minute.  This in itself can lead to real problems when trying to juggle two or more projects.

Not all agree however that deadlines are so problematic.  In her book ‘Work Less, Do More’, Jan Yagar argues deadlines actually help us by placing active status on a project and assigning it a tangible date to which we are then committed to, rather than allowing the task/project into an open-ended mess  where it may be less likely to get finished.  Given this, being able to set your own deadlines and stick to them, can be a very useful skill.


Padding Things Out

Hofstadter’s Law:  It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law. – Douglas Hofstadter

3a01ddebd26660229aba22fec6993d9cIn laymen’s terms, Hofstadter’s Law holds that people have problems estimating the time it will take to accomplish tasks of substantial complexity and are too optimistic. People are often misled by the “Power of the ending.”  It has been argued we forget the time and effort we put into completing a project once it has been delivered and will repeat the same mistakes time and again.

It is a good idea to set a padded deadline ahead of any time frame imposed by bosses.  Chances are that you will need time at the end of the project to go back and fine tune certain areas, especially if it has been completed over a number of weeks or months.  Schedule a weekly renew over the cycle of a longer project, to assess any weakness in your methodology, ensuring productivity is being maximised constantly.


Forward Planning

Time Management strategies like the Pomodoro technique, which divides work into intervals of twenty-five minutes, have altered the way in which many of us structure our working day.  However, research by the University of Chicago’s Yanping Tu and the University of Toronto’s Dilip Soman suggests we should structure our weeks and months as well, if we want to meet deadlines more efficiency.

Things on the backburner stay there for longer than they should because there are plenty of other things that take up our attention as relatively more urgent.  Bring deadlines forward if necessary so they are within the same week, month or year as the start date, to make them seem in the present.  Equally, if one begins their task on a Monday, aim to finish it by a Monday as well so the deadlines is easily remembered.


Forget Time – Focus on Results

We tend to think of a deadline as a ticking clock counting down.  Indeed, some argue this time pressure is a useful motivator.  I disagree for reasons of unnecessary pressure and stress.

Thankfully, ‘The Yerkes-Dodson Law’ holds that mental arousal (stress to you and me,) only increases productivity when performing task requiring stamina or persistence, not those which are intellectually complex.  Many experts recommend thinking of a deadline in terms of results achieved, instead of time remaining, to make the experience more rewarding.

The 2004 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found one reason people underestimate the time a task will take is “they do not naturally ‘unpack’ multifaceted  tasks into subcomponents  when making predictions”.  When participants brake down their task, they provided more conservative and realistic estimates of how long it would take.  As such, identifying each component task before your begin and creating a checklist to work from, is hugely beneficial.




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