Why did we stop setting deadlines (and why did our productivity increase)

Original author: Laura Roeder
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If you happen to miss the deadline - you are not alone in this.

It turns out that people quite often miss the deadlines set for performance of work - there are a number of fashionable philosophical reasons on this subject that explain why this happens.

And while some people are trying to focus on using a lot of small planning tricks that will help you to approach deadlines in a consistent and timely manner, we turned our attention to a big life hack that really helps us:

At Edgar, we completely abandoned the deadlines - and you too can do that.

No deadlines?

We know what you are thinking now:

This idea seems very stupid.

It's okay - your brain is set to think like that. From the moment you were instructed to do your first homework at school, you were told the time by which you should have completed it - you were always told to complete each task at a certain point. Therefore, some people insist that nothing would have been completed without deadlines.

You probably understood from an early age that deadlines are very, very important.
In a way, this is true, but not to the extent you imagine. Because there are things that might never have been done if they hadn't had deadlines. For example, paying taxes or inspecting a car is something you really don't want to do. You do not want to do this, so you are allowed to postpone these tasks only within a certain period of time.

But most things are not like that. In any case, not in your business. And treating them as an unpleasant “obligation” can lead to serious problems.

Why arbitrarily set deadlines are dangerous

Since certain tasks that you have encountered throughout your life had built-in deadlines, it is easy to come to the conclusion that everything needs clearly defined deadlines. In a sense, the deadlines are enjoyable because they give you a specific purpose. You know what you need to do, and you know at what point this should be done.

In theory.

But in reality, when you set deadlines for everything that you do, you choose many of them arbitrarily. A specific task does not really need to be completed by a given time - you just say that you need it. Thus, you feel that you are responsible. That, perhaps, will not become a problem, except for the fact that not all deadlines have any basis - and it is not easy to distinguish deceiving deadlines from real ones. To distinguish those tasks that must be completed on time from those that do not require haste is quite difficult - and here the problems begin.

Deadlines are so often pushed back because not all of them are actually needed and significant. This means that you constantly move tasks on your calendar, trying to find the perfect way to squeeze everything in its place so that it would be some kind of sense, while most tasks should not be there at all. Which is easier to assemble: a puzzle of 10 thousand pieces or 100?

When you set deadlines only for things that really need them, you can freely prioritize all the other work that needs to be done on the project - and they are much easier to arrange than you might think.

How to successfully work without deadlines

Now one big question remains:

If you do not have deadlines, how do you complete anything at all?

Based on our experience, the workflow consists of two parts.

First: do what should be done when it should be done.

Parkinson’s law states that work will fill all the time allotted to it - set aside a day to complete the work, and it will stretch out for a day. Give yourself a week on the same task - it will take a week. And while someone will argue that you just need to set shorter deadlines - this can also lead to the fact that you will be in a hurry and do the work somehow in time to complete it on time, instead of allocating enough time for it and do everything honestly. You can exhaust yourself, and your work can also suffer from this (the fact that you can do something in one day does not mean that you really do it).

Our alternative is a complete rejection of deadlines. As a result, projects take as much time as they really require, and not as much as you allocate for them.

And yes - you will still be motivated to do your job, despite the fact that you do not have installed deadlines. The pessimistic view of Parkinson’s law is that if a job does not have a deadline, then you will never find the motivation to do it.

This point of view has almost the same meaning as in the phrase: "You will starve to death if you do not make a schedule of meals." Your tasks will be solved because they must be solved, and not because you marked the deadline date in the calendar. If you are worried that you will lose all motivation, look at the second part of the process: work on only one project at a time.

Even if you feel confident in your ability to do many things at the same time, switching between different tasks still kills your productivity, slows down your work and leads to the fact that you work on many half-completed projects until you gradually bring at least one to the end.

In our company, we force ourselves to work on one project at a time, and only when it is completed can we take on something else.

We organized our workflow in accordance with the Kanban system. It looks something like this:

In the left column are future projects. Someone selects a project from the To Do list and moves it to the Doing column, starting work on this task. And when the project is ready for the next step, it moves to the right (in this case, the developer project goes into the code verification stage). As soon as the project completes its journey by moving to the far right column (Complete - not shown in the figure), the developer can again go to the start, select a new project and repeat the cycle.

Your list of ongoing projects motivates you not to waste time. Of course, perhaps you have to work at the moment on something that you really do not want to do with. Over something boring, forcing to lose faith in their own abilities, and so on. But you cannot work on anything else until you complete this part of the work — a kind of approach of "no ice cream until the porridge is eaten." Maybe this phrase will seem to you something fantastic, but it turns out that the completion of the project is an award, because then you can start work on the next level. In addition, it gives motivation to quickly deal with a ton of small annoying tasks - those that, in the usual scenario, you would have thrown into the long box.

Without deadlines, you can still control others

From a manager’s point of view, deadlines can seem like an invaluable tool to help keep your team running at an efficient pace. They look like a mob of gangsters who are called to remind people that they have certain obligations.

“It seems that you are doing a good job. It will be very unfortunate if ... anything happens. ”

But do you really want this approach in your business?

Permanent deadlines can give rise to wrong ideas in your team. Instead of reinforcing a sense of independence, they turn workers into people who automatically perform tasks just for the sake of another tick.

If you don’t trust your team to just do your job just because it needs to be done, and not because there is a deadline hanging over them, then you should rethink whether you hired the people.

Business will not grow if you take on a team those who automatically perform tasks - the business develops thanks to people who are able to come up with new ideas and work with you, bringing a much greater contribution than working on everything that was ordered to them. David Ogilvy, in his book Ogilvy On Advertising, shared the advice he gave to each department head at his agency:

“If each of us hires lesser people, then we will become a company of gnomes. But if we hire large people, we will become a company of giants. ”

Getting rid of deadlines is not the only way to motivate your team, but it contributes to a more productive collaboration and creates an atmosphere of trust - without hard deadlines that can kill the desire to search for creative solutions.

Note: This does not mean the complete disappearance of control.
The abandonment of deadlines does not entail the abolition of management - just the management itself is changing. You must work with people who want to do their job well, but you can still check their progress and intervene if your help is needed or you want answers when you think it is necessary. If it seems to you that the task takes longer than you would like, figure out why! In the end, you need to strike a balance between trust and control - and micromanagement based on a bunch of deadlines makes this task much more complex than it should be.

Here's how to try it out without risk.

Rebuilding your entire management is, of course, a very great achievement. Therefore, you can try this method in the following way.

Over the next week, eliminate multitasking from your repertoire. When you are working on something, do not allow yourself to start the next project until the first is complete. How does this affect your motivation? To your concentration? For the time it takes to complete the task? Try single-tasking, and you will probably find that it is much more effective than deadlines and calendars.

... And be sure to write in the comments what came of it!

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