Use the Big Deadline


Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote a fascinating piece on President Obama’s wide-reaching use of deadlines – on Gitmo, health care, Iran, Russian arms deals, and a wide array of other issues – in yesterday’s New York Times.  She suggests the risks can be high when deadlines pass without action or action is forced prematurely, and she points to the upside of focusing attention that can otherwise continually push off decisions.

The President used carrots in his “Race to the Top” educational grant money and the application deadlines for that money stimulated unprecedented debate and decision-making in educational reform.  The Michigan legislature passed a slew of reforms over the weekend.  The deadline drove decision makers to press for the win-wins that have only existed on paper for 20 years and have heretofore never been close to resolution.

So we all face our most natural deadline of the year – 2009’s over in 10 days.  Why not leverage off the deadline?  Maybe you don’t have to give up on a work goal, though only a few work days remain.  Fix on it.  Declare you’ll do it.  Go after it.  Maybe you can add a carrot to a deadline with your kids to prompt them to do something you and they know they can and should complete – a college application, an oil change, or a letter to grandma.  Maybe there’s something in your own life you can complete with a firm deadline in place: a visit to an aging relative, an act of forgiveness you have withheld, a gift of food, clothing or money to people in great need, or a return to church.

President Obama takes a risk every time he announces something will be done by a set date. Hit the mark or not, he focuses attention and energy. Like him or not, he offers a way to

Lead with your best self!


  • Dan,

    The ultimate goal of success in any venture is to accomplish the goals long before the deadline date.

    Waiting until the very last moment accomplishes very little and leaves the players so burnt out that they often fail to attain the “prize”.

    I am waiting and watching to see if we meet the deadline for the Educational stimulus money ahead of time. Then I am anxious to see whether we spend it on the children who really need it!! My hope is that the administrative costs will not exceed 10%. Perhaps that will keep the folks “who just want to get paid” from going after the money and the folks who want to make a difference the opportunity to invest it wisely! ~The TIP Lady

    • Jennifer,
      You must be a Myers-Briggs “J,” loving order, closure, completion. To a MB “P,” “success is to accomplish the goals with at least a second to spare, while doing everything else you wanted to do at the same time.”
      I know, I know, we drive you crazy.
      As for the money in the classroom (or other places that directly serve kids), I’m totally with you on that one!

      • D.

        You know me so well. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to be on the front line with children and their families all over the state every single day, from the U.P. to Detroit, to the suburbs! My friends tease me when some kid calls me collect at home at night looking for assistance and I am eager to help. I truly get much more out of it than the families I serve. What a gift I have been given!!

        If we are going to turn our educational system around it is going to take MUCH MORE THAN MONEY!! It is going to require hard work from everyone involved. COMPROMISE~ Us, the community, parents, KIDS, educators, everybody and it can’t happen between the hours of 8:00-5:00 it is a full-time 24/7 deal.

        This battle to turn our failing educational systems around can work!! We can do it! Our kids are up to it. I ask my students every single day are they smart? They respond yes! Then I ask them what was the one smart thing that each of them did that morning? They respond, “We got up and came to school.” Then I make them scream at me to the top of their lungs, “IF I BELIEVE, I CAN ACHIEVE!!~ And they will!!~ The TIP Lady

  • This is kind of neat. A reverse New Year’s resolution. Instead of starting the resolution at the beginning of theyear and having a year to procrastinate, we have less than two weeks. This is a good way to use a basic of leadership, setting goals and deadlines. Mark John Hunter – Alpena.

  • An excellent way to leverage the end of the year! Completing the year strong by using the end of the year as a deadline is not only a great impetus to complete what we have promised to others, but also to make sure we complete the things we have promised to ourselves. Not everything has to take a lot of time. And some things on our list just require that we make a choice to start now.

  • I have followed that philosophy for most of my adult life. I set my own deadlines and strive to finish a project a week to 10 days before a date certain set by employment obligations of those who I report to and challenge myself in the same way in non work endeavors as well. It’s a great feeling to not have the pressure of the deadline looming and I have the time to correct any mistakes and review what I accomplished.

    It doesn’t always work out that I can achieve something in the time frame I would like but there is satisfaction knowing that something is done by the date required even if it’s done at the final hour.

  • Dan,

    Perhaps your column helps explain the excruciating pain of unemployment for those who have lived a deadline-driven life. I came to understand this many moons ago, when I worked for the Social Security Administration as a Field Rep. Always expecting that retirement would be warm and happy time for folks with a long career behind them, I was astounded at the number of dynamic individuals who were nearly reduced to tears at my desk. It took time, but I came to understand that the looming lack of structure, the dearth of deadlines, frightened them almost beyond their ability to explain. I also came to believe that this loss of structure and deadlines resulted in many passing on before their time.

    Any writer and/or editor can tell you that, without a deadline, work languishes and stalls. Anyone who has fought the “battle of the bulge” knows that a weight-loss goal is incomplete without a goal date — a deadline to lose the pounds and extra inches.

    Imagine the terrible toll being taken on the lives of those millions now out of work — simply because of the lack of structure in their lives. Perhaps local governments and businesses should set a goal to help the unemployed in their communities restructure their lives and find new and effective ways to bring back some of the small successes of reaching intermediate goals — even if it is just small temp jobs. After all, even the highest elective offices are just temp jobs, and look at all the great things they can accomplish if, and when, they set deadlines and meet them.


  • Wow!

    So clearly stated.

    Wouldn’t that be the perfect place to make people aware of volunteer opportunities? They have so much to give and there are so many people who could use their insight. ~The TIP Lady

  • Dan,
    Thanks for the end of the year kick in the butt! I work well with deadlines but I hadn’t thought of stepping it up with only 10 days to go push.
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  • >