Deadlines Are Not Evil

I discussed with one guy about project work and he brought an interesting point. He said he had a project that would take about a year to accomplish. In the beginning of the project he was bit worried that there didn’t seem to be specific dates set at all. This was bit stressful since he knew that there was one big deadline set (the one year timeline), but no deadlines for smaller goals or milestones. He wasn’t sure what to focus on next.

He discussed this with his project clients and finally at some point they managed to set a few milestone deadlines. Just merely attaching a specific date to an upcoming meeting was relief for this guy. He said it made his work more clear. Now he didn’t need to stumble forward, but he could organize his work so that he would first go towards the first deadline. After that he’d know when the second deadline and what it was all about. It brought clarity to set ‘what’ the next milestone is about and ‘when’ it is supposed to occur.

This isn’t always possible to do: deadlines can be missed, features might not make it to the milestone, something unexpected occurs, fixing one bug creates four new bugs…. anything can happen.

Even though deadlines can be tricky one, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t use them. Deadlines can inspire people to meet the deadline. They can bring clarity. They can be helpful. Check out some famous quotes about deadlines, perhaps they’ll inspire you to think about the importance of deadlines:

“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.”
-Rita Mae Brown

“They didn’t want it good, they wanted it Wednesday.”
Robert Heinlein

“The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.”
-Nolan Bushnell

And one of my personal favorites…

“I’ll need daily status reports on why you’re so behind.”
– Dilbert’s Boss

Deadlines aren’t necessary evil. It depends how you set them.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. I think it’s the other way around, not setting deadlines creates confusion and generally demotivates employees.

    Setting deadlines and then postponing regularly is also not healthy.

  2. “I’ll need daily status reports on why you’re so behind.” – Dilbert’s Boss

    I have just read this and laughed when our project leader came and ordered us EXACTLY THE SAME! Let me tell you, in real life, it’s not even half as funny.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree and was about to post my feelings on the subject when I noticed they had already been expressed: Gavin has essentially written exactly what I would. A personal deadline has gotten me through the doldrums of grind more times than I care to count. Nice to know I’m not the only one (forced?) to employ this technique.

  4. I’ve found it helpful in the past imposing a deadline even when there’s no actual external pressure to meet it. The psychological effect of the existence of the deadline just pushes you to achieve more.

    It seems especially useful when you have a lot of little tasks you’re struggling to grind your way through, when you need that little extra motivation.

  5. Hehe, I agree with you. And of course as long as they are realistic.

    Funny thing in the first example its pretty much as game design as well. If you only set 1 clear end goal but dont present smaller goals/challenges the player feels lost and confused. ^^

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