Yesterday, on another forum, I invited people to have a go at visual goal-setting/problem-solving using the video I put together and posted on YouTube. One person got back to me and shared her reservation about setting goals. She loved the idea of working in a visual format but hated setting goals. More specifically she hated the pressure of deadlines. Conversely another person suggested I add a step to my video about putting the action steps in the diary. So I have a dilemma.

How important is it to set deadlines in goal-setting? If you are trying to solve a problem the chances are there is a deadline which may have been yesterday! Are deadlines good or bad? Should I include that step in my visual goal-setting method? In an earlier post I talked about how I prefer to think of visual goal-setting as designing my reality rather than my future because the future is always ‘out there’ giving a sense of it being unattainable. That may be fine in our personal lives but surely in some facets of life (such as in business or academic study) deadlines are absolutely essential right? 

A small company called Coudmaniac Labs have banned deadlines from their organisation with the aim of encouraging the creative process. They claim that productivity has improved as a result and that “It turns out when employees are less stressed, they do better work, faster”.

In contrast many writers claim that they simply would not get their writing activities completed if it wasn’t for the deadlines set by publishers and editors. 

How useful are deadlines to me? Well they are imperative to academic or professional study. I can base this on two very simple facts. When I have had to hand in assignments or projects by a particular deadline, or study for an exam I have completed the work on time and to a high standard. No matter how much I enjoyed the subject I’m not sure I would have got my head down without the deadline. I surmise this from the fact that I have twice signed up and paid for courses with no deadline so that you could complete them in your own time. I didn’t complete either of them. The first I never even sent off an assignment; the second I sent off the first assignment but never completed another one. Clearly the fact that I have paid for something is not the deciding factor, although if you have spent hundreds or thousands on a course (these were each around £200) that might provide a greater motivation for completion. Is it just the deadline? Other factors might include the reward or accolade at the end. Might we be more motivated to complete a goal if the end result is a recognised qualification such as a degree, a promotion or a pay rise? I can’t answer regarding promotions or pay rises since every promotion I have ever had has been as a result of moving jobs (I’m not sure if that says something about me or the organisations I have worked for!). I do know that I have worked for an organisation that had performance related pay and neither this aspect nor the deadline was much incentive for me completing the goal. The incentive was mostly just wanting to do a good job. Producing something of good quality has always been more important to me than just producing. I have never been afraid to say to a manager or a customer ‘look I’m running behind, I could give you what I have but I’d rather finish the job properly. It will be with you a couple of days later’. It’s not like I’m the kind of person that always runs behind. I’m not. but quality is important to me. 

However am I right to focus on producing quality rather than producing something? Perhaps it depends on the situation. Aren’t there Hard deadlines and Soft deadlines? Are Soft deadlines targets? Should targets have penalties if they are not met or just bonuses if they are?

Recently I came across James Clear’s blog post advocating scheduling over deadlines. A lot of it makes sense to me. He suggests that scheduling in set time to work towards our goals is more productive than setting deadlines. Last year I completed the very successful Beachbody Power 90 and P90X workout programmes. I printed off the workout schedules for the 90 days. One of my favourite Tony Horton sayings is ‘do your best and forget the rest’. He advocates modifying when you need to as long as you turn up. This really worked for me. Yes I had a goal weight and there was a 90 day deadline but the two were not inextricably linked. As long as I was improving over the 90 days I was working towards my goal. I completed the workout programmes and lost weight but the real sense of achievement was the improvements to my fitness slowly and surely over the 90 days. Without scheduling in the workouts and ‘turning up’ I quite simply would not have kept it up. Some days I almost walked my way through the workouts and others I made huge breakthroughs like the day I realised I could do proper push ups rather than doing them from my knees. As long as I turned up I was bound to make progress. Does this apply to other kinds of goals? You often hear successful writers talking about how they sit down and write every day. Just this week I was listening to John Grisham being interviewed on Radio 2. Apparently he sits down to write every day between 7 am and 11 am.  So is scheduling more important than setting deadlines for your goals?

Perhaps when we are setting ourselves goals we need to think about whether the goal or indeed the person requires a deadline (some people after all thrive on deadlines), whether that deadline should be Hard or Soft, whether there should be reward for meeting the deadline (I’m a fan of rewards not punishments by the way) and whether scheduling is appropriate (and if so for how long and when). Perhaps these are questions I need to factor into any visual goal-setting method I develop. 

So taking the 10 steps I included on my video lets add a couple more:

11. Set a deadline if required

12. Schedule in time to work on your actions

Now making the most of the time you schedule in is a whole other topic for consideration……….