Three reasons why you should never extend a deadline

Are you panicking about meeting an imminent deadline? Read three reasons why, as tempting as it may be, you shouldn’t extend it. 

How are you with deadlines? Are you the kind of person who leaves your tax return right up until the last week (or day) it’s due? Or do you complete it comfortably within the time allotted?

It’s very tempting to wait until a task becomes urgent before we finally apply ourselves to completing it – especially if that task is as unpleasant as filling out tax forms.

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And it’s even more tempting, once panic sets in, to allow ourselves the luxury of extending the deadline if it’s possible. But there are very good reasons why this isn’t just a bad idea, but can actually make the task even harder.

Three reasons why you should never extend a deadline

Here are three reasons why you should never extend a deadline.

1) You’ll lose motivation

According to the goal gradient hypothesis, the closer we get to a deadline or success, the more motivated we are to pursue it.

So what happens when we extend a deadline? We lose incentive to pull out all the stops to reach it. It lulls us into a false sense of security that allows us to take our foot off the accelerator and focus on other things.

And if you’re the type of person who leaves tasks until they are absolutely urgent, the chances are that by extending the deadline you’re just delaying the pain. Rather than reducing the urgency and working slowly and steady through the task, you’ll leave it until it’s just as urgent again.

So it’s much simpler to make life easier for yourself and use the urgency of the upcoming deadline to power through the work now, and look forward to the lovely feeling of having met your deadline on time.

2) You’ll start procrastinating

As we’ve already explained, moving a deadline isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to use your extra time efficiently. In fact, if you are someone who needs a deadline to get motivated, having extra time to complete a project just allows you the luxury of procrastination.

Suddenly checking Facebook, updating your accounts, even doing the washing up becomes instantly more attractive than the task at hand. And without the pressure of an immovable deadline, you can afford to spend the time on these tasks. Or at least you think you can.

The truth is that procrastination is the enemy of productivity. You’re not working steadily towards a goal when you are procrastinating. Instead you look for ‘dead end’ tasks that distract you from what you really need to do right now, and often don’t move anything significant off your to-do list.

Much better, again, to stick with your initial deadline and let the pressure finally force you to abandon your favourite procrastination habits and actually work productively.

(If you struggle with procrastination we recommend working in Focus Blocks.)

3) You’ll over-think the task

When I first started out as a freelance copywriter, I gave my clients unlimited amounts of amends on their copy. But that was a mistake. Because after a while, they started doubting and second-guessing themselves, and I would get comments on their comments, often reverting copy back to a previous version by round seven of amends!

(Barry Schwartz’s famous TED talk on the paradox of choice explains perfectly why we do this.)

So I started implementing a two rounds of amends only policy. And it worked. Clients knew they had a finite opportunity to tweak the work, so thought carefully about their changes and, once made, were much happier with them.

And time works in just the same way. The more time you give yourself to work on something, the more you’ll tweak and overthink it. And the more likely it is that you’ll lose all sight of what you actually wanted in the first place, and end up with an over-worked mess!

So if you want to work smartly, and not waste time over-thinking the task at hand, stick to your tight deadline.

Don’t move your deadline – chunk your goal!

Often the reason we need to move a deadline in the first place is that we haven’t set ourselves a SMART goal and worked towards it effectively.

So if you want to remove the need to even consider extending a deadline in future, we recommend you do two things:

  1. Learn how to set yourself SMART goals
  2. Chunk those goals into a series of achievable steps

When you’re working smartly towards your goals on a daily basis, you’ll complete your tasks easily in advance of your deadlines, and can say goodbye to last-minute panic!