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The problem with extending deadlines

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in Centerpiece,Office Management,Time Management

deadline clockWhat’s the hurry, deadline’s ex­­tended?

Any conviction you have when starting work on a project fades fast when word of a deadline extension comes through. After all, you have another week or month until the project must be completed.

The hurry is that the same problems you had the first time around loom even more the second time: the stress of the time crunch, and the fear of not doing it right, writes Heidi Grant Halvorson, associate director for the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School.

You haven’t actually diverted anything. You’ve just been given more time to worry about it. Here’s why you’re pulling your hair out and not getting much done, Halvorson writes:

  • The goal-looms-larger effect. When a deadline is delayed, the newly added distance between you and your goal decreases the urgency you feel to complete it.
  • Procrastination. You wait around until the last minute, then work feverishly under insane time limits. And now you’re going to do it again because you’ve been given the opportunity to do it again.
  • Planning fallacy. You plan the exact amount of time you can do a project within a time frame that accounts for unrealistic best-case scenarios and without any thought  to a project’s subcomponents. You might call this “delusions of grandeur.”

So how do you save yourself from your own neuroses and bad habits?

  • Set interim deadlines. Make mini-deadlines for the pieces of whatever elephant you’re eating. It’s a confidence boost without the delusion. Every minicommitment will draw you closer to your goal, and the looming task won’t seem so daunting when cut into bite-size pieces.
  • Anticipate how things could go wrong. Don’t kid yourself into thinking your plan is flawless. Think ahead and strategize.
  • Manage your time. Look at your interim deadlines and consider how long these tasks will take to complete. Give yourself time for mistakes and mishaps.

— Adapted from “Here’s What Really Happens When You Extend a Deadline,” Heidi Grant Halvorson, Harvard Business Review’s HBR Blog Network.

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