At work, most of us spend lots of time on big projects with hazy parameters, faraway deadlines and many other people involved.
A challenge with this kind of work is avoiding procrastinating on our little chunk of the project, and here’s a simple tactic that can help.
When you’re working on something that you’ll submit to someone else when finished, commit to a public deadline. In other words, tell others exactly when to expect the finished product, even when you don’t have to.
Say you’re working on a report with a colleague and are responsible for finishing the first draft. Instead of saying, “I’ll get that to you ASAP,” say, “I’ll get that to you by Monday at 5:00.”
Deadlines create accountability—you know you said Monday at 5:00 and your colleague knows it, too. You’ve made procrastination more painful and therefore less likely to occur, since it now involves losing face and going back on your word instead of just feeling vaguely guilty.
In addition to staving off procrastination, public deadlines also build trust.
Professional relationships are built on trust, and a nice perk of committing to (and meeting) public deadlines is that you will gradually earn the reputation of being someone who does what they said they would do when they said they would do it—a person to whom a task (or an entire project) can be entrusted and forgotten about.
These people are very valuable in organizations.
In committing to and meeting deadlines, what you’re really doing is taking responsibility. You’re making other people’s jobs easier (since they know they can rely on you) and, as a result, your own professional reputation grows.
When we increase our performance, we’re mainly helping others. But helping others also happens to be the best way to help ourselves.