Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I take deadlines seriously. In my view, deadlines are a “promise to deliver.” They matter a lot because promises matter a lot. At least they do to me. Consequently I don’t consider deadlines to be “aspirational” dates – i.e. “I’ll do my best to get it done” or “I’ll see what I can do”. That’s not a deadline or a promise to deliver.

A guy that worked with me in the 1990s (who went on to become a successful CEO) delights in telling how he would get thrown out of my office more times than he can remember for missing deadlines. Eventually he realised that my view of deadlines was quite different from most people. He learned that the deadline was the finish date when the work was finally completed not when it was “handed in”. Once he realised this he adjusted his own timeframes to make sure he was sitting in front of me with his work 3-4 days BEFORE the final deadline was due. He then had time to make any changes before the work was finalised. As a result he hit his deadlines every time and was never thrown out of my office again.

I am genuinely surprised by the number of business people who do not take deadlines seriously. They’ll initially agree to the deadline but will get distracted by other things and either forget about it or deliver it late. In their mind they’ll justify that this is reasonable – “something more important came up” or “the dog ate my homework” – whatever the reason the outcome is the same – progress is slowed down and trust is eroded. Many don’t even realise they are doing it.

The real problem is that they have a view that most timeframes can be extended. This might be fine if the business operated in a vacuum around a single person but it doesn’t. Any time overruns will create problems and surprises elsewhere in the organisation. An effective team must all lock arms together and agree to minimum standards of behaviour – meeting deadlines is a fundamental component of this.

The key is to set tough but realistic deadlines and then aim to complete the work 3-4 days ahead of schedule. This gives everyone breathing space to assess and review the work which will lead to better outcomes. As my colleague can attest to it may also result in never getting thrown out of your boss’ office again.