I’ve been a part of hundreds of work projects now, and seen my share of successful and failed projects. I’ve been on both sides of the table, spent (and of course received) money working on different projects in different industries, and I am confident about two things:

  1. I have never once seen a company or project fail because of a missed deadline
  2. Every project or company I have seen fail was due to poor planning, rushing to meet arbitrary deadlines, and/or normal business items like unforeseen cashflow issues, bad business models, and so on.

A lot of deadlines are set unrealistically, and so that there is a “goal” in mind. It’s a number that was picked out of a hat or a “well I’d like to have it by…” In the age of overnight shipping and instant gratification, the deadline is often based on wanting it sooner rather than later.

Then, the deadline oftentimes becomes more important than the actual result of the product. It’s more important that something is “live” rather than “completed.”

I’m not saying to tolerate poor planning, laziness, or anything of that nature. People should work efficiently and hard, and focus on the end result of the product.

The hard worker who never gives up is a myth used to inspire lazy people. The hardest workers, most intelligent, and happiest people I’ve ever known didn’t work themselves the death. I am frequently told that you, “want the computer guys who don’t have a life, because they’re always working on their computer.” Sure, until they end up in a mental institution.

And if “lazy” means extending a deadline for a week to ensure proper security and user testing has occurred, I’d rather have a lazy programmer than a “hard worker” who constantly moves bugs into production because they are overworked (meeting your arbitrary deadline).

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a productivity tip from a successful company or person that was: “You should rush through things as much as possible, put as many items as possible on your plate, and work 16 hours a day. That will make you productive.”

When the looming deadline approaches, people begin to rush through months of work at the last minute. This causes careless mistakes, and ends up costing more time! If you look back at every project you’ve ever been a part of that went way past the deadline, I would bet that there was a point where one of two things was realized:

  1. If you or the parties responsible for the delay had spent one extra week delayed fixing and organizing the tasks and project, it’s likely the project wouldn’t have gone months (or even years) passed the deadline
  2. The initial deadline was extraordinarily unrealistic

Deadlines can be a great tool for productivity and getting things done in a timely fashion. However, trying to reach an impossible deadline will likely be bad for you in the long run. Too many companies and project managers sacrifice long term wealth and project success for short term money and the satisfaction of meeting a deadline.