Mastering the Art of Deadlines: A Love-Hate Relationship


The word deadlines can evoke a mixture of emotions for many of us. Some of us thrive on the pressure and structure they provide, whilst others find themselves caught in a web of stress and anxiety. I confess that I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, they provide a guide that helps me stay focused and organised. But when multiple due dates hit me, it can become a bit of a juggling act to avoid broken promises or a dented professional reputation.


Love: Deadlines as a guide

Let’s start with the positives. Deadlines can be our secret weapon for maintaining order in our busy lives both at work and at home. They force us to prioritise tasks, plan meticulously, and deliver high-quality work on time. Juggling all our priorities needs a delicate balance, and without deadlines, we can feel out of control and become overwhelmed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that I’m not alone in my appreciation for clear and unambiguous timescales; they’re the backbone of effective teamwork, ensuring everyone knows what’s expected of them.


Hate: Spinning plates and colliding deadlines

However, the love affair with deadlines takes a bit of a turn when multiple milestones collide. Imagine that each spinning plate represents a project. There’s the constant fear that one might crash to the ground, symbolising a failure or missed deadline. The act of balancing each plate on its pole may feel impossible. It becomes overwhelming, leading to anxiety and poorer performance. Instead of providing focus, too many deadlines can result in a perpetual state of multitasking, leaving little time to focus on the right things at the right time. It’s a recipe for burnout.


Making deadlines work for you

Love them or hate them, deadlines are here to stay. So, it’s important to make them work for us rather than against us. Here are some strategies you may find helpful:

  1. Set realistic deadlines – Avoid the trap of overcommitting by setting realistic deadlines. Challenge or negotiate unrealistic ones whenever possible.
  2. Plan strategically – Break down tasks and create a plan to achieve each deadline. Factor in some contingency for unexpected interruptions.
  3. Communication is key – Clearly communicate deadlines to everyone involved. Transparency helps manage expectations.
  4. Avoid overcommitting – Don’t overcommit yourself and resist the pressure to accept unrealistic deadlines imposed by others.
  5. Work smarter, not harder – Prioritise your self-care. Skipping meals and working late may offer short-term gains, but it’s unsustainable in the long run.
  6. Proactive problem-solving – If it becomes apparent that you’re not going to meet a deadline, act immediately. See what you can reschedule, replan or renegotiate, and communicate the changes promptly.


Feel the fear

I know the fear of letting people down can cause a lot of angst. But remember, life is unpredictable, and even the most well-intentioned of us may find it impossible to keep every deadline promise we make to others. So be kind to yourself when you don’t quite make a deadline. Of course, being reliable is important, but we are often our own harshest critics. If your intentions are good and your communication is respectful, people are generally understanding when something stops us from meeting a deadline… provided we don’t make a habit of it!

Whilst occasional broken promises are inevitable, consistent unreliability damages our personal and professional credibility. So do make sure you get organised, motivate yourself and others, stay true to your values, and be honest in your approach to work and deadlines.

When it comes to deadlines, finding the right balance is an ongoing challenge. A proactive and strategic approach can transform that love/hate relationship into a more manageable and productive partnership. After all, when managed effectively, deadlines can be an excellent stimulus for success rather than a source of stress.


Want to know more?

Sarah Harvey is Founding Director of Savvy Conversations Ltd and author of the highly acclaimed book “Savvy Conversations: A practical framework for effective workplace relationships.”


Linked In:

X: @SarahSavvySarah

Instagram: savvysarah


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