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Haunting Deadlines

Working on projects can be very demanding, taxing our energy and resiliency. There are often spurts of overtime that have to be put in to get a project back on track. Sometimes you have to work months upon months of long hours just to stay a little behind. If you worked on just one project at a time you might catch a break; however, most people these days seem to be working on multiple projects at any given time.

There has been a lot published on the effects of working overtime for prolonged periods. Researchers have determined that only spurts of overtime are effective. Dr. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute talks about viewing effort at work like wave making. You have to make time for breaks so you can be more effective when working. While it sounds easy, this is hard to put into practice. Thankfully companies have instituted policies for holidays and vacations that allow us to get away from our work environments and enjoy doing other things or nothing at all.

Vacations and holidays take care of the physical and mental effects of working long hours, but what about the emotional effects of constantly chasing deadlines? Deadlines are points in time that were negotiated in the past and are not easily changed. When we are on holiday or vacation deadlines do not simply go away and they don’t care if we are on scheduled time off.

Deadlines can be a source of accomplishment if you are not overwhelmed by them, however, this is not the case for most folks. They are a major source of stress that distract us and take us away from our family and friends. Those of you who are working on multiple projects know that they haunt you, even to the point of disrupting your sleep and causing nightmares. Six to twelve months of constantly challenging deadlines can drain and numb you emotionally, potentially resulting in depression and mood swings.

Unfortunately, they are a core component of projects. They have to exist to facilitate completing the project at an expected point in time. They are not going away. The solution to the problem then is to learn how to minimize their emotional toll.

Joe noticed his project team was getting overly stressed towards the end of a nine month period of continuously tight deadlines. Some members were getting very thin on patience. Others were becoming prone to emotional outbursts. Joe knew he was driving them pretty hard and forced each of them to take a mandatory one week vacation. When they returned he noticed that they remained stressed.

After a significant emotional outburst in a meeting by one of his team members, Joe called a time out and told his team to go back to their desks and write down five work related things they have wanted to do but have not had time for because of the constant deadlines. He then instructed them to start doing the things on their list and to stop working on the project all together for one week. He then contacted his Department Head and negotiated the due dates to be pushed back by two weeks. After the one week break ended his team began work on the project with a totally new emotional disposition. They completed the project over the next three months without missing a single deadline.

Joe’s story is a great example of how to mitigate the emotional stress of haunting deadlines. The key to his success was to unconditionally slip the deadlines. This gave his team a tangible sign for releasing the stress they were carrying. This could have been combined with a one week vacation; but, it seems to produce better results if team members stay at work and do something that they’ve been wanting to do. Usually this includes researching tools for becoming more efficient or gaining knowledge that will help them be more effective.

Everyone handles the stress differently. That means everyone has to be aware of their own emotional state and take steps to keep themselves from going over the edge. That being said, it helps to have a manager who is aware and looks out for the welfare of his team members as well as the project deadlines.