You will encounter many times when you feel that you have to complete projects or tasks of any kind sooner that it seems you can capably do it, which is why it’s so necessary to put a check on yourself and make sure that you don’t promise an unreasonable deadline for those things, to yourself or anyone else.
It’s a bad idea to set unrealistic deadlines for a few reasons, but as the spirit of this blog series denotes, burning yourself out is one of the key pitfalls you can run into when you use this practice, either consciously or unconsciously. There are also other consequences to consider if you don’t give yourself enough time to finish projects for your business. We’ll get into those, too.
We Tend to Bite Off More than We Can Chew
The whole reason that we’re writing this post is to address the fact that business owners so often fall prey to this practice. It’s possible that you don’t even realize that you’re doing it, but honestly, it’s probably already killing you—and you probably know exactly why. If you’ve been moving your deadlines up too far for a long time, in fact, then you’ve probably identified it as a problem that needs a remedy.
This isn’t something that is really all that murky or tough to pinpoint. If you’re doing it, then you know you’re doing it and have either accepted it as an occupational hazard or hate every minute of it. You want to set unreasonable deadlines for yourself, clients, or whatever the purpose because you want to make a good impression, you want to get it done as soon as possible, or whatever reason that you’ve decided within yourself.
The problem is that you will end up either blowing the deadline or killing yourself physically and emotionally in your efforts to hit the deadline. This is never worth it. You may be able to do it for a while, but your chickens will come home to roost at some point. And as we will get into here, once you start setting realistic deadlines for all of your work, you’ll find that people accept them as the time required to complete something.
No One Is Going to Stop You
When you give a client an early deadline, what reason would they have to correct you? Think about it. You’re telling them that something is going to be done quicker than they expected. So, they’re trusting that you will follow through and are fully capable of meeting the deadline without a problem, which is a total plus for them.
They will always be delighted that something will be done more quickly, meaning that there would obviously be no reason for them to discourage that. In the end, the responsibility falls entirely on you, not only to set the appropriate deadline for a project, but also to have the confidence to meet the deadline, which comes from understanding exactly what it entails.
You are the one who is going to have to make sure the deadlines you set for any work are reasonable and that it’s a date you can easily reach without adding undue stress to you or anyone else. The rough part of it is that if you do set the date that’s too soon, you have to hit it or risk hurting your reputation as a business, when you could have just told the client that it will be done at the proper time and save yourself from all that added stress.
You Have to Take the Full Scope of the Work Into Account
Owners will usually encounter a new project or job of any size and set a deadline off the cuff right away, based on little more than a general idea of its scope that they are estimating based on experience, but without taking any time to think about it.
Not the greatest way to approach it. Instead, it’s a much better approach to give a client a date range at first, then after looking at everything it will require, give them a solid date you know is appropriate and won’t overwhelm you and your team. There are all kinds of details you have to be aware of for any kind of job, as you no doubt well know, details that can make the difference of a few days or even a few weeks.
When you shoot off a completion date without taking any time to consider those things, you’re shooting yourself in the foot before you even get started. This might take a few hours to figure out, or even a day if you’re already pressed for time, but you have to know exactly what you’re getting into before issuing a deadline. We do this for a variety of reasons, depending on what type of person you are.
You might give faster deadlines to challenge yourself and then do whatever it takes to meet that date, or you might just be trying to set a precedent that tells anyone who’s watching that you’re a business that gets things done fast. No matter what the reason is, that is an ill-conceived plan. Before looking into it fully, there could be aspects of it that you don’t see at first which will significantly extend the time to complete it.
This Practice Should Also Apply to Your Smaller Jobs
It really makes no difference what the job is, large or small; the time it takes is the time it takes. After all, if you’re late, you’re late. If you set a date, then that’s the date. In the case of smaller jobs, even those that you can get done within a single day or even a few hours, you still need to take some time to look at the full scope of them.
If you tell your team or a client that you can have something done by a certain time that day, and you don’t, it’s automatically problematic. First of all, you’ll get down on yourself because you’re a driven person who doesn’t like to tell someone that you’ll do something which you end up failing to deliver.
Secondly, it will send a message that you don’t follow through on daily deadlines. This is all very troublesome and stressful territory. You don’t want that kind of weight on your shoulders in any capacity, and that’s precisely why you have to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to complete projects in way too short a period of time.
In summation, the practice of researching every job to a T is something that’s vital, no matter what that job is. There can always be extenuating circumstances, but you can pretty much always get something done at the hour you say you will, if you know exactly what you’ll have to do.
Unreasonable Deadlines Put Stress on Your Team
Unreasonable deadlines add stress, and that’s the point. Many times, this doesn’t only affect you; it can add a lot of unneeded stress to the people on your team, as well. As a business owner, it’s easy to forget that you’re no longer just responsible for the professional well-being of yourself, but you have a large part in affecting the lives of the great people who work for you, too.
If you set a deadline that not only you, but your employees have to respect and fulfill, then it’s inevitably going to be stressful. Unfortunately, being a good boss can actually work against you here because those people who work for you are going to be eager to measure up to the standards you set and be a real asset to the company.
The trouble is that they will most likely meet that deadline, even though it’s nowhere near enough time to get it done, which means that they can become upset by it, unduly strained by it, and ultimately produce a finished product that probably won’t be as good as it could be due to it being rushed. Don’t just add a ton of pressure to your team just because you aren’t the one who has to deal with it.
Make sure they have plenty of time to get projects done. It goes without saying that a solid team is a gift and a terrible thing to waste, so the last thing you want to do is put unnecessary pressure on them to fulfill a deadline that you could have easily pushed back to make it more manageable for everyone.
It Leads to Burnout
This is the focus of this series, and it is the main reason why setting reasonable deadlines is so important. All of this culminates in a state, which you’ll have to contend with every day of your working life, that can bring everything to a grinding halt. Just to review what burnout means once more, this is how it fleshes out.
After a gradual process of diminishing performance, you’ll abruptly lose the ability to get anything done with any effectiveness; you’ll become depressed; even the smallest tasks start to feel overwhelming; you’ll doubt your ability as a business owner and as a professional; and so on, and so forth.
The bottom line is that you don’t want this to happen. It can come without warning if you’re not familiar with it or really paying attention, and it can take a good deal of time to recover from it. It sounds scary because it is—not while it’s building up, but after it’s already happened to you. If you continue to push yourself to get things done earlier than you need to, you will eventually burn out. It’s understandable that, as a business owner, you want to give the impression that you are one who works efficiently and quickly.
It’s also understandable that you want to gain a good reputation with your own team that you complete projects in a timely manner. Killing yourself over the deadlines, though, is not worth it because if you end up burning out, you’re not going to be very useful for a while, until you remedy the problem. And the problem can go much deeper than setting unreasonable deadlines, which is why we’re conducting this series on burnout.
Feeling that It’s Necessary is an Illusion
We set unrealistic deadlines because we feel that we have to. There are of course exceptions to this, as projects sometimes come with a hard clock, but for those that we set ourselves, there is something driving us that is compelling enough to make us do so even under duress. The feeling we have that it’s necessary to do that is a misconception, and when you start to carefully consider the time requirement of your work and communicate that to the client, you’ll see that no one really cares.
If an earlier deadline means the difference between winning a project or losing it to a competitor, then you’re of course going to want to move it up. The majority of the time, however, you have to make it clear to clients (and to yourself) that this will take a certain amount of time and that’s just how it will be. That leads to a better quality of work, anyway.
You think you’re doing yourself a favor when you promise to get jobs done fast, but it actually produces more harm than good, for you, personally, as well as for your business. Once again, you normally don’t have to be afraid of upsetting the client by letting them know something will take a little more time, unless they absolutely need something done earlier. On top of that, you’re also going to be able to provide a better result when you take the time you actually need to get it done.
Check out all of the articles in the series, Understanding & Dealing with Burnout:
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.