How to Use Deadlines as a Motivational Tool
Deadlines. What was your initial reaction when you read that? Most people are immediately filled with dread when deadlines are mentioned due to their association with stress and pressure.
In today’s article, we explore the history of deadlines, the pros and cons, and how leaders can actually use deadlines as a motivational tool to increase focus, boost perseverance, and ultimately improve productivity in their teams.
The Gruesome History Behind the Word 'Deadline'
The term ‘deadline’ originated during the Civil War, and became prominent during the trial of infamous Swiss-born Confederate leader, Henry Wirz. In 1864, Wirz was put in control of Camp Sumter, a newly-established internment camp for Union soldiers located near Andersonville in Georgia, US. Wirz implemented a physical line, which he called the ‘deadline’, just inside the inner wall of Camp Sumter; any prisoner who walked beyond the line would immediately be killed.
Nowadays, deadlines have a much less sinister meaning; they are used by leaders to tell staff “the latest time or date by which something should be completed”.
Unspoken Benefits of Deadlines
When we think about deadlines, we often only think of the negatives when in reality, deadlines can bring many benefits.
First and foremost, deadlines help make sure that things actually get done. If tasks aren’t given a ‘to be done by’ date, they will never be prioritised and therefore are likely to not be completed. Deadlines keep staff organised, telling them what they need to do and when by, preventing teams from finding themselves in a very stressful and chaotic environment where nobody knows what needs to be done.
Deadlines also help teams plan projects better, identifying when certain tasks will be complete and therefore when they will be able to move onto the next phase of the project. Staying in control and on top of projects like this greatly reduces the risk of plans staying as mere plans and not being successfully put into action.
When set and managed correctly, deadlines can even be used as a motivational tool.
The Dangers of Deadlines
As we mentioned earlier on in this article, deadlines are one of the most common causes of stress and anxiety in the workplace. When staff have lots of deadlines at once, they can feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. This can lead to:
- Stressed staff
- Tension between leaders and their employees
- Team conflict
- Greater staff absenteeism
- A decline in staff morale
Not only can deadlines have a negative impact on employees’ wellbeing and workplace culture, they can also hinder the quality to which tasks are completed. Looming deadlines often encourage last-minute sprints to the finish line, like when students pull ‘all-nighters’ in an attempt to achieve weeks’ worth of essay writing in just a few hours. This last-minute work tends to be rushed and therefore there is a risk that it won’t be to the standard expected.
How Leaders Can Use Deadlines as a Motivational Tool
The secret to using deadlines as a motivation tool rather than a source of stress and anxiety is being able set optimal deadlines and then effectively manage them.
In our ‘How to Use Deadlines as a Motivational Tool’ guide, we identify 5 tips that leaders can use to set optimal deadlines designed to set teams up for success, and a 5 step method employees can use to effectively manage their deadlines.
To download this guide for free, please click here.
Until next time...