A very certain outcome from arbitrary decisions

April 29, 2010

If you set deadlines for other people, you better have very good and thought through reasons for doing so. You will not get many chances to blow this until it starts to backfire and you get caught in a vicious circle where you’ll have to set your deadlines farther and farther into the future and they’ll get less and less respect.

If you hand me a task with a deadline I will assume that this is important to you and prioritize the task. But if you don’t start using the result of my work until a week after the deadline, then we have a problem. I can see three reasons for this happening and none of them makes me any happier.

1. You didn’t trust me to get the work done on time and you built in some slack. Well, from now on I don’t trust you to trust me so I will be using this slack whether it’s there or not.

2. You just put an arbitrary deadline on the task in order to get it off your desk. This would mean that you value your own time much higher than mine. I’m sorry but I’ll have to disagree with you on this one, I find my own time quite valuable and I won’t be spending it on your arbitrary deadlines in the future.

3. Your priorities changed since you gave me the task and you didn’t tell me about it. Well, if you hand me low prioritized tasks I’m sure not going to give your items high priority in the future. As with #2 this is a problem of you not valuing my time.

You see how this behaviour drives me to not meet your deadlines in the future and how my behaviour will drive you to set even higher priority and more arbitrary deadlines far off into the future on even the most mundane tasks in order to get my attention. So don’t be afraid to hand me work with deadlines as long as I see you working on my output the minute after I’ve handed it to you. If you intend to shove my output at the bottom of your own TODO-pile, then you SHOULD be afraid. Be VERY afraid, because the Reinforcing Loop is out to bite you in the stern.


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