Setting proper deadlines

June 26, 2014


Can you really call a goal a goal when it has no deadline? I don’t believe so. So what makes a good deadline or how should you set deadlines. Let’s first understand why setting a proper deadline is a key element in setting a good goal.

Deadlines cause pressure and this is a good thing when you are trying to achieve something. A good balanced deadline will ensure that you are pressurized to achieve the deadline, will help prevent procrastination, and when it is far enough away, it will allow you to produce quality work.

If you set a deadline and it’s too close, it will cause you stress and hamper your creative ability, you will become so focused on getting it done that you won’t have the time to stop, look at the problem and design an elegant solution. You need breathing space you need the ability to be able to walk away from the problem or task and comeback refreshed and relaxed to produce some quality work.

However, if you set a deadline too far in the future that could spell disaster. You will have more time to procrastinate. The urgency to get the task done wouldn’t be there and each day you would put it off to the next until it was a day before the deadline and then suddenly you would realize you made a massive mistake.


So let’s get down to business how do you set deadlines and have confidence in them? Since I am a Software Engineer I use Ken Norton’s rule of thumb for estimates and ask myself the following questions and answer them as honestly as I can:

####Likely estimate (L): “How long do I think this will take?”

####Pessimistic estimate (P): “What is the longest this will take me accounting for unforeseen roadblocks?”

####Optimistic estimate (0): “What’s the least amount of time required if everything goes well?”

I then plug my answers into this equation

O + (L + 4) + P

I then use this as my deadline for a given task. This technique has served me well thus far, and this is the same equation I am using to create my deadline to contributing to open source projects.


For me, deadlines always cause stress, even using this technique I still feel anxious getting closer to my deadlines. However, I do feel a lot more confident with my deadlines and estimates in general. Don’t let your deadlines suck up all your productive energy. Create your goals and make balanced deadlines that you can stick to and feel good about.

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My name is Deon Heyns and I am a developer learning things and documenting them in realtime. Python, Ruby, Scala, .NET, and Groovy are all languages I have written code in. I appeared in the New York Post once. I host my code up at GitHub and Bitbucket so have a look at my code, fork it and send those pull requests.

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