The Best Motivational Tool We Love to Hate

When I was in school I hated deadlines.   Absolutely hated them.  To make matters worse I was a classic procrastinator, especially when I was in college.

It wasn’t unusual for me to finally crack the book open a couple of days before the exam, or pull out the typewriter just a day before a term paper was due.

What was interesting about this “hatred” was that it actually worked for me – that is, what I didn’t realize was that that the deadline put me (albeit pretty late in the game) in the perfect state of mind to get the work done, and done well.

Once I got out into the business world and took on leadership roles, it didn’t take long to realize that my sworn enemy was actually one of my best friends.

THEN, it was “Deadlines, I love thee! (Even though I reserve the right to still hate you on occasion)”

Let’s face it – there’s a natural love/hate relationship with deadlines, but the fact is, we can’t get along without them.

All we have to do to show how valuable deadlines are is to put ourselves in situations where they don’t exist.

For example, take yours truly.   After a few years of writing this blog I decided that I wanted to write a book.  That was 2009.   That “decision” was one without a deadline.  Consequently, no words ever hit the page for almost 3 years.

That is, until I had a deadline.   Last year I finally decided to hire someone to help me with the manuscript (or better said, actually START it), and actually set a deadline to finish it.

All of a sudden, with a “hard date” on the calendar I was cranking out page after page after page, and “voilà!”

I had a draft manuscript.

We recently set another deadline in which to get the book in “publishable form”.    I’m betting that I’ll make it.


Because of my enemy, my friend, the deadline.

The business world has lots of deadlines, and for the leader, the biggest challenge is how to choreograph them in a way that maximizes productivity.

There are deadlines that you don’t control, of course, but there are plenty more that you do.  And the timing and substance of those controllable deadlines is critical.

If the deadline has an overly aggressive goal and the timing is too “tight”, you could create a failure and morale killer that wasn’t necessary.

If it has a “slam dunk” goal and is stretched out at a leisurely pace, it can create a false sense of security and can lead to complacency.

And much like the college professor who had the threat of a failing grade to motivate me to action,  leaders need to back their deadlines up with clear consequences.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but if it’s done right, you too will be yelling out “Deadlines, I love thee!”.

(And it’s OK, you can still secretly hate them too….)

(Photo by Bigstock)




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