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The Deadline or the Sword of Damocles

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Unfortunately, the term “deadline” has become overused today, similar to the word “stress.” Both words are just a big doughnut increased by our own fears.

“Everything is stressing me”; “I’m stressed because I am waiting at the traffic light, because I cannot find a phone number, because the restaurant bill comes late, because I have a headache or stomach pain…”

The same happens with the deadline term. “So tomorrow I have a deadline to: finish a task, create the sales plan, bring in 10 new clients, hire someone, or finish all sorts of activities of this kind.”

There are three types of problems hiding behind this phrase.Two are related to the management plan: poor management at work or poor management of your own resources and time. The other is related to the individual psychological plane.

Psychologically, the term “deadline” can divide employees into several categories:

  • Those who do not care.“So what if we have a deadline? I had such deadlines in the past that I have not met and nothing happened.”
  • Those who confuse duties with fate.“God, what did I do to deserve something like this? I am sure that sooner or later I’ll be fired. It is only a matter of time and fate … “
  • Those who throw themselves into executing the work to meet the deadline and feel pushed by an avalanche. “I have to do this now; tomorrow will be too late. I know the deadline is in three days, but I will finish today no matter what.”
  • Those who are thinking about how to pass the responsibility of that activity to somebody else. “Well it is not my job, it’s George’s” … Or “I know it is my business, but I will ask George to help me and once he starts he will finish it.”
  • Those who find a new opportunity to hide from themselves, family or a social life they don’t like. Here we can include those directors and employees who stay at work until midnight without realizing that they don’t want to go home. If we evaluate their work, we’ll discover that everything they do in 12 or 14 hours of work can easily be done in eight.

I hear often from my clients and always read in the media about people who stay at work 12 or 14 hours a day. My clients discover the truth mentioned above after several sessions: that they could all finish their job in eight hours but prefer to lengthen their time in meetings, sit at the computer pretending to work or read the newspaper just to avoid experiencing real life. They focus on the life in which they are neither executives nor their friends’ managers, which gives them a feeling of emptiness when I challenge them to think about it. The bottom line for these workaholics is that nobody can work for 10 hours at full capacity. The correct schedule for anyone is eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work and eight hours of family, social or friend time.

  • The very few assess the task in the equation: time – resources. After they make a well-established plan, they start working.

For a psychologist, the issues raised by the deadline can be viewed through different lenses, such as:

  • Over-evaluating competencies or capacities,
  • Underpayment,
  • Lack of creation of a life plan or if one has been created, an ambiguous or unrealistic definition of it.

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Also I hear very often that the deadline is a form of motivation. I think it is just a form of mismanagement. For a person who is told they have to execute a task, the word “deadline” can lead to a blockage of the brain. This is because the word draws attention that this is something very important and needs to be executed very quickly. In this circumstance, the brain turns on all the defense mechanisms which are the body’s natural reactions to stress or when it b that is being attacked, provoked or negatively conditioned. For a sensitive person or one who is experiencing a negative life event (loneliness, sickness, is in debt, or is simply not feeling well) the word “deadline” can cause a panic attack or depression.

The word is perceived by the body as stress, and it cannot lead to adequate long-term engagement because the body is consuming enormous resources just like it does to deal with every form of stress. It is preferable to use phrases like: let’s to try to solve this by tomorrow; I can help you finish this task by Tuesday; do you think we can finish by Monday? it would be great to finalize this by Friday, etc.

For the modern, busy man who wants to build a career, a family and a secure future, the whip of communication or the phrases that touch personal security can lead to personality disorders or tangle personal priorities.

The bottom line is: if you have a manager who uses an authoritative communication style (voice, words or gestures), remember that you are the master of your own life and that work is only the renting of your time and skills for a finite period of time in which you deserve respect. If there is no respect at work, it means that you have become a prisoner in your own life.

Constantin Cornea, Psychotherapist and Life Coach

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