Much of the news this past week has been focused on President Trump’s first 100 days in office and what accomplishments have been made in that time frame. On the one hand, setting a deadline to review progress made on goals seems appropriate; on the other hand, this process is a great example of how setting arbitrary deadlines create unnecessary stress in the workplace.
For the President (Trump or otherwise), is there anything magical about 100 days? Not really. The time period could be 90 days, 3 months, or 101 days — the length of time is not directly related to any external actual deadline. “100 days” really is a marketing ploy, a memorable soundbite.
But in the workplace, many tend to use the same dynamic — creating an arbitrary deadline for tasks to get done. “By when do you need this?” is a common response when a project is assigned to a co-worker. Often we quickly calculate the deadline by which we need the product, and add some “buffer days” to create some space so we get it by the day we really need it. Sometimes, this is a reasonable approach — to give yourself some margin in case not everything goes smoothly.
But the problem is: many managers and supervisors (and co-workers) significantly increase the stress in their workplace by creating unnecessarily short time frames for tasks to be done.
Look at the situation this way. Stress is the experience created by the relationship between perceived resources and perceived demands. Resources include time, money, mental & emotional energy. When we have more bills to pay than we have money in our checking account, we feel stressed. When we have more work to complete than we have the time or emotional energy to do the work, stress is created. Conversely, if a previous deadline for finishing a project is moved back, the level of our stress decreases.
As a result of this relationship between resources and demands, when we shorten the amount of time allowed for a task to be completed, we increase the stress of the person doing the task because we are decreasing their resource (amount of time) to meet the demand (finish the task.) Many times this increase in a person’s sense of stress is unnecessary. I may say I need the product by Monday, but in reality I don’t really need it until Wednesday. Part of this can come from self-protection; part may also come from experience (either with this person specifically, or in life, in general.)
Essentially, the issue largely comes down to trust. Can I trust the other person to get the job done (at the quality level desired) in the time allotted? Or do I need to create a buffer because they are either unreliable, or incompetent?
When I work with organizations to come and do a speaking engagement and they tell me a deadline for a product I’m creating for them (usually either a handout or my PowerPoint presentation), I clarify with them: “I understand this is when you would like [the handout], but for the management of my time and resources, when is your actual ‘drop dead’ date (and time)? By when do you absolutely need this?” I then clarify that I have never missed a drop dead date and I will make sure they get the product by (and probably before) that date, but it is helpful to me to know I have some leeway.
Similarly, when I work with my team members, I honestly try not to give them the “I’d like this by …” date, but the day or time by when I really need the task done. And I also tell them, if I don’t give them a specific target date initially, that means I’m trusting them to put it into their priority list where they think it fits — because I don’t know (or remember) all the things they have to do.
If you want to reduce the stress you, your co-workers, and even your vendors experience, I would strongly encourage you to reconsider the time deadlines you give for tasks to be completed. Do you really need it tomorrow morning?
Dr. Paul White is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.