Setting deadlines for your goals and projects is incredibly important. Due to the added time-pressure, you’ll work with more focus and have less room available to procrastinate.
However, making deadlines isn’t always easy. Especially those deadlines that we set for ourselves (and aren’t enforced by others) are missed more often than we’d like to admit. That’s why one of my readers asked me the following question, and I’m sure many can relate:
‘I find it hard to commit because it (a self-imposed deadline) becomes a “soft” deadline and the “hard” deadline is normally dictated to me by external factors. This gives me wiggle room. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this?’
Most people struggle more with making the deadlines they impose on themselves than making the deadlines enforced by others — a boss, manager, professor, or parent, for example.
In this article, I’ll explain precisely why this is the case and how you can overcome it using three different methods. Because once you learn how to take your deadlines seriously, you’ll become more productive, reliable, and consistent.
Use The Power of Social Accountability
In my experience, the self-imposed deadlines that no one else knows about are the deadlines that I miss most often. On the contrary, deadlines that I publicly share with other people (such as customers, followers, accountability partners or even my girlfriend) are the deadlines that I meet most often.
It’s easy to talk myself out of doing the work and believing my own excuses. There aren’t many negative consequences involved with postponing my own deadlines if no one else knows about it.
However, it’s a different ballgame when I have to share my lack of progress with other people. This is because of the power of social accountability.
As I’ve written in other articles, we humans are social creatures. We often perform better when our actions and results are made public because we want others to think highly of us. More importantly, we don’t want others to think badly of us.
This is exactly why we take deadlines imposed by other people much more seriously. When it becomes a social thing, we do everything to show our best self.
When others see us missing a deadline, we often assume they will perceive us as unproductive, unfocused, and unreliable. This damages our confidence, self-worth, and social status — negative consequences we would rather avoid.
In ancient times, this damage in social status could mean physical harm or even death as we could be kicked out of the tribe. This thought-pattern is still deeply rooted within our psychology, so we take the self-imposed deadline much more seriously when others are watching.
On the other hand, successfully meeting the deadline makes us look productive, focused, and reliable. These are favorable traits that make us feel good and put us higher on the social ladder — which increases our odds of surviving and thriving.
This is why, when other people are watching our progress, we become more consistent, and we make sure to meet the deadline.
This is why getting into mastermind groups, assigning accountability partners, and getting coaches is so important. When we share our goals and deadlines with these people, they’ll hold us accountable for our progress and results — dramatically increasing our odds of success.
Research backs this up as a study by the American Society of Training and Development has shown that people who pursue their goals with accountability partners have an average success rate of 95%.
All in all, whenever you set a deadline for yourself, share this with people whose opinion you value and who hold you accountable for your progress and results. This will ensure you keep going strong at those times where you’d typically procrastinate or slack if you would pursue a deadline without anyone watching.
Use Stakes And Rewards
Working with stakes and rewards are another method of making sure you meet the deadlines you set for yourself. As a form of extra motivation, reward yourself for making the deadline on time and punish yourself for notmaking the deadline on time. It’s the ‘carrot and the stick’ method.
When you combine this with the accountability we just talked about, you create enough leverage to follow through on the self-imposed deadlines.
For example, a few months ago, I started a challenge of writing 30 articles in 30 days. I shared this challenge with my girlfriend and two of my mastermind members, who became my accountability partners. If I’d complete the challenge within the 30-day deadline, I’d reward myself with a full day of relaxation at a beautiful spa.
Even though it’s not about the reward itself but about the person you become because of consistently making your deadlines, it’s a nice incentive that symbolizes your performance.
Simply having a shiny reward waiting for you can sometimes be enough to keep you going — especially when others know about it. They start to cheer for you like they’re cheering for their favorite football team. They want you to win that prize.
On the other hand, you could include stakes for not meeting the deadline. Stakes are external negative consequences that come from not meeting the deadline. For example, when you don’t make the deadline successfully, you’d have to donate $100 to a politic party you hate. Or you’d have to share an embarrassing photo or video on your social media account.
These painful negative consequences could be the leverage you need in times where you don’t feel like doing the work. It may seem a little crazy, but it gets you to do the job. Especially when your accountability partners remind you about the potential doom hanging over your head 24/7.
Where the previous two points are external hacks and systems you can use to make the self-imposed deadlines, this one is related to your mindest and internal beliefs.
It might be a little harsh, but realize that when you view your self-imposed deadlines as ‘soft’ and you accept wiggle room, you respect your own deadlines less than deadlines imposed by others. Even worse, you respect yourself (and your goals, ambitions, and visions) less than others.
Subconsciously, you’re telling yourself that other people’s deadlines and goals matter more to you than your own deadlines and goals. You prioritize serving other people’s agenda over your own. If not, why would you take external deadlines more seriously than self-imposed deadlines?
When I realized this harsh lesson, I started to treat my own deadlines differently. I now understand that whenever I treat my deadlines as mere suggestions, I don’t treat my goals and projects as top priorities. I don’t give them the respect they deserve — and I don’t give myself the respect I deserve.
Now, it’s no longer about this one deadline. Rather, it’s about my goals, ambitions, and self-worth. That makes it a totally different ballgame.
Now Do It
The next time you set a deadline for a goal or project, use these three powerful methods to ensure you make your self-imposed deadlines on time. Share your deadlines publicly with people who hold you accountable, set some stakes and rewards, and respect yourself and the deadline you set.
This way, you’ll be more productive as you no longer procrastinate on your work, and you consistently make the deadlines you set for yourself.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab
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