The Case for and Against Stressful Deadlines

By: Jim Bruce
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Today’s Tuesday Reading, “The Case for and Against Stressful Deadlines” comes to us from the pen of Laura Vanderkem and recently appeared at FastCompany.com.  Vanderkem is a well-known writer who questions the status quo and helps readers rediscover their true passions and beliefs in pursuit of more meaningful lives.

Some of us abhor deadlines, some of us, like the author, has a thing for deadlines and doesn’t like to miss them.  On one hand, if you want to manage anything well, you have to have some deadlines, but do deadlines create stresses that impede our creativity?  As Vanderkem says, it’s more complicated.

Drawing on work by Richard Boyatzis, a professor at Case Western Reserve University who studies organizational behavior and cognitive science and that of Teresa Amabile, professor at the Harvard Business School who has had hundreds of people keep work diaries which were analyzed for mood, work quality, etc. Vanderkem has come to a number of helpful conclusions about deadlines:

1. The more stressful a deadline is, the less open you are to other ways of approaching the problem.  Great ideas don’t necessarily come to us on a schedule.  “So asking a team to come up with the most amazing marketing campaign ever in the next two hours won’t work.” 

2.  “While participants [in Amabile’s studies] ”were giving evidence of less creative thinking on time-pressured days, they reported feeling more creative on those days.“  Most likely when you think you are doing your best work, you’re not.  Boyatzis told Vanderkem, ”You show me somebody who says, ‘I’m an adrenaline junkie, I perform my best under stress,’ and I’ll show you an idiot.“

3.  Setting a deadline according to Boyatzis allows you to clear away other stuff and focus on the task.

4.  Self-imposed deadlines enable you to balance focus and the absence of tight external time pressures.  Boyatzis says:  ”My sense is that if it’s your own internally driven [deadline], it’s more engaging and it’s less stressful because you’re setting it."

5.  For those large, long projects, setting intermediate deadlines can create a motivating sense of progress.

Deadlines are a tool in your leadership toolkit.  Know your people so that you can collaborate with them to set appropriate deadlines to enable them to do their best work in a timely manner.

.  .  .  .     jim

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