Mastering Deadlines

📖 2 minute read

In Living with Constraints, I touched on a topic that is on the mind of software people: managers and developers alike. The time constraint, also known as "The Deadline"1 is of particular angst for some technical people.

Many people have a fear of deadlines. They are as frightened by them, as they are of speaking in public. For developers, the mastery of both can be a critical success factor. For managers, they are a survival skill.

What happens if you have a problem with deadlines? Maybe right now you have difficulty meeting the deadlines thrown at you, and you have given up on being able to meet them. Not meeting deadlines can be detrimental to your business and your career. So, how do you get out of this?

The age old advice is right on the mark: start out by setting small deadlines that you can meet. Get early wins. The only way you can get better at meeting deadlines is... by actually setting and meeting deadlines.

Along the way it helps if you remind yourself as to why are you doing this: you are getting better at meeting deadlines, because deadlines are nothing more than commitments. The world runs on commitments. Both your business and personal life depend on commitments. Your ability to succeed depends on your ability to make and meet commitments. Other people count on your output. You shouldn't let them down. And you count on commitments from others. Once the chain reaction of missed commitments and deadlines starts, the endeavor can spiral out of control.

What is a good first commitment? Select a deliverable that can be done in 30 minutes or less. Make a commitment to yourself at the beginning of the day that you complete the work by the end of the day. That's your first deadline. Here is an example: "I provide feedback to John on the white paper by 5 pm today." Repeat this for a week.

Once you successfully meet your deadline every day for a week, then set yourself a slightly more ambitious goal. Make the next deadline one that involves between 5 to 10 mini deadlines to deliver on a more complex deliverable (requiring about 5 hours of total work). Then work yourself up to 20, 40, 50 hours of commitments involving many intermediate deadlines. Meet each one, and see your confidence grow.

As you set and meet commitments the word will get out that you are a person to trust with projects. You will become ever more successful. And you will see your career take off.


  1. The Deadline is a book of fiction by Tom DeMarco. The author illustrates many issues surrounding software development. The main character of the book, Mr. Webster Tompkins, the project manager, sets up three teams for each product to develop the same system with different methods. Make time to read it.