The power of hard deadlines to get things done

Get the RSS Feed

I love to blame my Dad for my propensity to finish my work just-in-time for a deadline, since I have memories of him hunched over a typewriter late at night, furiously finishing a story the night before it was due.

But since I am 41 years old, that is a bit of a cop-out since I have had plenty of time to establish my own habits.  Not to mention that my sister saw the same thing and is always on time or early with everything she does.   So much for unproven genetic theories. (It doesn’t mean I don’t tease my Dad about it whenever I get the chance)

Despite the patterns of procrastination you grew up around, there is a wonderful benefit in establishing clear, specific, real deadlines as a way to get things done.  When you have a real deadline:

  • Priorities become instantly clear.  That which absolutely doesn’t have to get done won’t.
  • You get a rush of creative energy since your focus is not distracted by ten other things.
  • You reign in expectations for perfection, since you don’t have endless time to tweak and edit your work.

Establishing real deadlines as an entrepreneur can be tricky, since some things you have to complete are not related to a client deliverable or reporting requirement.  How can you create deadlines for "improvement" or "enhancement" activities such as:

  • Updating or upgrading your website or blog
  • Creating new products or programs
  • Writing articles or other marketing activities

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Participate in a class or group coaching program which includes a specific deadline for a specific deliverable.  Right now, I am enrolled in The Product Factory, which is a 3-month program that gives guidance and structure for creating information products.  After procrastinating to create a product for about 2 years, I am actually a hair away from releasing my first product, an audio program.  (I will announce it here soon – can’t wait!)  I was motivated by the promise of getting extra exposure for the product by a mailing to 50,000 people from the course instructors Michael Port and Mitch Meyerson, but perhaps more importantly, out of loyalty to my working group of 25 peers that are doing the same thing as I am.  There is a healthy competitive spirit that emerges in me when I see peers getting things done, and done well.
  2. Hire someone to work with you to complete the task.  If you are paying someone else to work with you, you will feel more accountable to get it done. You are also more likely to define specific tasks, responsibilities and sub-deadlines, which will move things along quicker.
  3. Announce your intentions in a public forum.  Tell your blog or ezine readers when you are launching your new product, or overhauling your website.  If you really want to freak yourself out, send a press release to someplace like PRWeb announcing big changes at a specific date.  (We all know that PR folks hate "product announcement" press releases, so make it a good, newsworthy one)
  4. Work with a mastermind buddy.  If you don’t want to invest the time or money in a program, identify a peer that has a similar goal of project completion who is willing to check in once a week to keep progress going.  If you are an indie software developer type, you could look at something like the Business of Software Forum for good peers, and if you are a coach or consultant type, look for something like  The Coaching Forum (which I just found by doing a quick google on "coaching forums")  I recommend choosing a mastermind buddy who is motivated and who you know has gotten things done in the past.  I also recommend choosing someone you respect, as once again, a bit of healthy competition is good for the energy level.  I started working with my friend Philippa Kennealy as a mastermind partner, and was really impressed with her level of supportiveness and productivity (she totally blew me out of the water).
  5. Enter a contest.  There are a lot of cool contests like "best blog," "most innovative product" or "best  marketing campaign."  Look for one related to your enhancement project, and this can give you great incentive to do good work.  I entered a website design contest with Robert Middleton a couple of years ago, which was instrumental in helping me complete an overhaul to my website (and I won second place — not bad!).
  6. Get pregnant.  I’m telling you, I have finished more things in this last month of pregnancy than in the prior 8 months combined.  The great thing about a pregnancy deadline is that it is totally unpredictable, so you can’t screech right up to the last minute since it could come a month early or a week late.  You may all laugh at me, but in the next week, I aim to: wrap and launch my product, write a delectable secret guest post (can’t wait to tell you who for, but that will come soon), complete and record a podcast, write a review of my buddy Ramit’s latest book, write and send my monthly ezine (which is 2 weeks late – I am combining Aug and Sept) and write a "static blog post" that will sit at the top of my blog for the couple of weeks or however long it takes that I will be indisposed with new motherhood (I would like to say that I will take 6 months off of all work including blogging to devote all my energy to my family, but I would be lying.  Blogging is like therapy for me, so you can bet that after a few weeks of diapers and round-the-clock-feedings, I will want to focus on something else for an hour or two a day.  No promises, just a prediction!).  I realize that for some of you, due to your gender, biological clock or lack of fondness for children that pregnancy may be out.  But for the eager and fertile among you, get busy!  😉

I suppose that there are a group of you who are totally motivated, hard-working and productive and don’t need to play tricks on yourself to get things done.  But for the rest of you perfection-challenged folks (like me), try these tips and see if they help. 

And please add your own in the comments below!

Filed Under: Managing your business

14 Responses to “The power of hard deadlines to get things done”

  1. […] more on the power of deadlines, read this compelling piece by Pam Slim. Photo by: […]

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with getting accountability from a group. While I continue to have my own 1 on 1 coach, I recently joined Heather Dominick’s Energy Rich Boot Camp ( to coincide with my transition from day job. After just one week I am being kept on task & forced to move much more quickly than I would left to my doubt ridden self. With my first cube freedom in 17 years, I just want to ride my bike, veg out, etc. And, while I am doing some of that to care for myself, I need to do some serious heads down business work. Structure helps me get a little of the best of both worlds.

  3. Hi Pam,

    I would add one basic, yet efficient trick: build a project plan.

    It might seem obvious for control freaks like me, obsessed with deadlines, todo lists ans schedules (I’m a project management so my job is basically to get things done).

    But for many people, lacking a project plan implies no deadline, no pressure, no methods… and in the end no result.
    So I guess this is all the more important for people who are not naturally driven by deadlines.

    I’ve seen it many times with friends or colleagues around me: if you do not start with putting dates before your tasks, or worse, if you do not start with building a todo list of everything that needs to be done, nothing gets done in the end.

    And in order to build your project plan, do not hesitate to use whatever tool that might help (Basecamp projects, MS project, iCal, even a paper sheet), anything to confront you with what you have to do, in which order, and for what date.

    NB: I’ve tryed the baby method too, you’re right, it works (only gets a little harder to get things done once the baby has arrived…).


  4. Congrats on the baby!

    Procrastination can be a creative way of dropping projects as well. I find if I am bothered by putting things off it’s because I didn’t do a good job up front in deciding whether or not the project is a definite YES. You can’t say yes to projects unless you are effective at saying no. Taking on too many projects can lead to churn when all you do is manage projects and not work on them.
    So, when a new project comes along don’t attach “Oh, they really LIKE me!” to it, think about your health and energy and only say YES when you can mean YES!

    …of course babies usually come from screaming YES, YES, YES …

    sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂

  5. Hi Pam,
    As someone who worked full time and made the time to get everything done because people depended on me this post hit home big time. Literally, I am now working at home as a life coach and when I look at my to do list I think, “it’s 5, do you know where your day went?”
    Your words reminded me that I will get to where I need to go by imposing and sticking to deadlines.
    Right now I have to finish my class plan so I must sign off See. it’s already working. 😉

    All the best with your new addition. Take care.

  6. Pam, I love your suggestions for keeping on track (though I think I will pass on the pregnancy idea for now:) One of the tools I use to trick myself and create a false sense of a deadline is to use a wind-up kitchen timer. Yup, one of those inexpensive timers that look like a small clock. I sit myself down at my desk when I have something that needs doing – the bills, an article, my passport renewal form — and I say, Okay, I just have to do this for, say, 20 minutes. Then I set the timer and race against the clock to get it done. Invariably the timer goes off and I am well into the projec t, and I happily go about finishing it. It’s my secret weapon and it works for me every time.

    Wishing you an easy labor, a healthy baby and a chance to put aside all worries about deadlines for now. Warmly, Erica

  7. Shama Hyder says:

    1) Best of luck with the baby Pam! (I hope we can see some pictures here on the site).

    2) I love this article because I am all about the deadlines. Crossing things off a to-do list is one of the best feelings in the world. Deadlines really help us work smart.

  8. Tom's blog says:

    Nothing happens until there’s a deadline

    I have long been under the supposition that most things can be accomplished in a reasonable timeframe. The challenge comes in the determination of what is the reasonable timeframe. Within the software industry (and many others of course) we suffer

  9. Mel says:

    Off topic……….
    I believe that by just being a part of “Priscilla Palmer’s Personal Development list” suggests that each of us post this list. You like me (Killeris at “Attitude, the Ultimate Power”) are on this list. If you have already posted it, THANK YOU. If you have not posted it, I am officially putting out a challenge that you add additional sites that fit the theme and post the entire list. This is my opinion only. If you disagree I respectfully understand. If you do agree with me this list can be found at:

  10. Duane Benson says:

    Hi Pamela;

    Nice post and pretty appropriate to my work-style. I think I’ve decided that I have some procrastination and over-revise related bugs in my system. I haven’t found out how to fix the bugs, but I have developed a series of work-arounds. (I don’t like to say that I trick myself. I just have work-arounds for my bugs)

    I’m not sure my specific tools would apply to anyone else, but the real key for me in getting here was to stop trying to use will-power to get though. It’s like good chocolate. If it’s in the house, no matter how much I don’t want to eat it, I will. Absolute. So, I just don’t put it in the house unless I think it’s okay to eat some. The barrier to purchase is higher than the barrier to eat.

    I approach my work habit challenges in much the same manner. I know that if I wait until the last day, I’ll procrastinate or fiddle with it to the last minute or beyond and get terribly stressed about it. The more stressed I am, the more difficult it is for me to think straight.

    If, on the other hand, I plan to finish two days early, I don’t feel so pressured and I will usually finish early. If the project goes poorly, I have slack time. I have a number of different tools like that, including your #3, tell a bunch of people.

    Thanks for another insightful post and good luck with your impending arrival of child.

    Duane Benson

  11. Right on, Pam!

    Thanks for describing what I’ve been figuring out (painfully) during the past several months.

    I am printing this post and putting up on my wall next to my calendar!
    Best of luck with the little one!
    Anna 🙂
    (from Extraor. Biz Builder)

  12. lilalia says:

    Pam, I wish you all the best on the project completion, but more particularly on your up-and-coming birth. I agree that pregnancy makes all other deadlines relative. Looking forward to hearing from you, though albeit sporadically.

    I find that walking away from a project, just for a moment of time (e.g. make a pot of tea, go out for a walk) renews my resolve to get things wrapped up.

  13. Pam, I never thought of things in quite this way before, but I love this post!

  14. Liz says:

    Hi Pam
    As I was reading your post, I was thinking to myself “she’s thinking about deadlines, because her baby is almost due!” and sure enough you brought it up yourself before getting to the end of the post! You’re right that late-stage pregnancy certainly helps you focus – but thank goodness you gave some other suggestions as well!

    So many times we procrastinate by trying to “perfect” our projects a little more and a little more…and avoid the risk of putting outselves out in the world.

    Deadlines give us an opportunity to say to ourselves “well, it wasn’t done, but it was due”…
    and allow good enough, to be good enough!