How to Set Deadlines That Actually Work


Deadlines are essential for success. If you want to be productive and meet your personal or professional goals, then you need to set deadlines that actually work. Whether these deadlines are daily, weekly or even long-term, it’s important to have them in place.

Here are 4 simple tips for setting effective deadlines:

1. Parkinson’s Law

In order to set deadlines that actually work, it’s worth taking a minute to understand Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s law is the adage that:

                “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This means that if you set yourself a deadline of 2 hours to complete a task, you’re going to get it done in 2 hours. However, if you give yourself an extra hour and set a deadline of 3 hours, then your work is going to expand to fill those 3 hours, and so on.

It’s therefore important to use your judgement and set strict deadlines. This will help you to avoid any unnecessary expansion and to get tasks done as quickly as possible.

2. Strict but Personal

Although deadlines should be strict, they should also be personal. Everyone thinks, works, and gets things done differently. You should therefore consider your skills, experiences and preferences to determine how long you really need to get a task done.

So, rather than pulling a random date out of thin air, think about how long it will take you personally to get the task done. But remember to be careful and avoid being too lenient with yourself.

In line with Parkinson’s Law, the deadline should still be reasonably strict. If your deadlines are too loose, then it’s likely that you’ll end up wasting time that could have been better spent elsewhere. On top of this, you also risk under-delivering and harming your teams morale if you take too long to get things done!

3. Actionable Tasks

On the one hand, setting deadlines that actually work is all about the time that you give yourself to get tasks done. However, on the other hand, it’s important to consider the tasks themselves. How can anyone set effective deadlines for unreasonable tasks?

We sometimes unknowingly set ourselves up to fail with unrealistic goals. For instance, if you have a big project coming up, it’s easy to just set one deadline for the whole thing. However, doing this can make it overwhelming and seemingly impossible to get anything done. Where do you start? Have you considered everything that needs to be done? How do you know if you’re on track to complete the project? The list of questions is endless.

Nevertheless, if you break this project down into smaller, actionable steps, you’ll be able to set sub-deadlines that actually work. This makes it much easier to manage and track your progress, and most importantly, to meet your deadline!

4. Meaningful Tasks

All of the tips so far have been about how to set effective deadlines, but none of these steps matter unless you’re actually motivated to complete the required tasks. If you’re ever going to meet your deadlines, they must have some meaning.

What currently happens when you miss a deadline? Are there consequences, or do you just tell yourself you’ll re-schedule and try again later? Without a sense of accountability, you have no real reason to stick to your deadlines.

To set deadlines that actually work, you must therefore create some accountability. For instance, imagine that you told your colleague that you’d give them some feedback at some point tomorrow. It’s almost too easy to put off this task and make excuses for not getting it done. However, if you send them an email to say that it’s your goal to send it to them by the end of the day, you have created both urgency and importance to get this task done.


Don’t forget that deadlines are a good thing – they’re here to increase your productivity, not harm it. So, instead of setting unachievable, de-motivating deadlines, try out the tips above and set deadlines that actually work.

Over to you…

Do you have any tips for setting deadlines that actually work? Share them in the comments below.

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