There are two things that happen when you miss deadlines, the first obvious, the second insidious.
The direct impact is that you don’t ship your product. Revenues come in later. Business partners are disappointed. Your team is let down.
The insidious part is that – drip, drip, drip – what you mean by “deadline” starts to erode. “Deadline” becomes “what we’re shooting for if nothing goes wrong.” But of course something always goes wrong, so the first sign of trouble becomes a chance to negotiate (with your team , with your business partners, and with your procrastinating self), a chance to argue that something’s got to give.
When hitting deadlines becomes non-negotiable, you and your team put that whole negotiation aside and just get to work. It’s amazing to discover what you can produce when you expect yourself to deliver every time.
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(If you’re curious: it turns out that the source of the word is a “dead line” for American Civil War prisoners who were kept inside a stockade. A railing placed inside the stockade marked the line prisoners were not allowed to pass – and guards were told to shoot any prisoner who crossed the line, because they were deemed to be trying to escape.)
We have to give ourselves credit – we don’t hide from the hard, scary things in obvious ways. We get creative, and do things that look similar enough to important stuff that we can fool ourselves. For example:
- Yesterday I needed to call someone to have a “fish or cut bait” (that is, are you in or are you out?) conversation. I calendared it and everything (for me, not for him). But the calendar reminder came and went, and I kept on doing the “important work” I’d been doing. Tick, tick, tick….it took a while for me to stand up, walk away from my computer and make the call. I was probably busier and more productive in those minutes when I was putting off the call than I’d been all day long!
- The other day I was talking to the founder of a smart new nonprofit. He’s trying to get 150 institutions of higher learning to make a substantial change in their curriculum. Right now, for various reasons, he’s focused on getting 1 million signatures to an online petition as ammunition for those meetings (so far he has 8,000 signatures). Sure, the signatures will help, but why not call the 150 schools right now and talk to them? Why not commit to calling the first 10 this week? The strategies can (and will) be complementary, but it also will be easy for him to spend so much time focusing on the 1 million that the 150 (which is the real, harder goal) fades to black.
These are just two of many examples. We see this every day – we build our websites before we have any customers and hire staff before we have any clients – not because we don’t know what the real work is but precisely because the real work is so much harder, and being busy with stuff that looks a lot like the real work is a wonderful way to hide.