It's Counterintuitive, But It Will Help Your Deadline Anxiety

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Who doesn't love deadlines — and, as author Douglas Adams put it, the whooshing sound they make as they fly by? Even if you're not a chronic procrastinator, deadlines have a way of messing with nearly all of us. We can stress ourselves out over things that are largely within our control, but researchers may have found a way to help us chill out and focus.

A team at the University of Michigan has just released a study about a surprising and surprisingly effective way to psych ourselves out of freaking out about deadlines. Rather than getting worked up about a fixed date and time by which we have to prove ourselves, we should try embracing the notion that deadlines are generally more flexible than that. One simple way of getting that done is to create a deadline that's not an endpoint but a spectrum.

First, a team or a stakeholder should sit down with a project and figure out what could introduce uncertainty into the deadline. Maybe you've got to relearn some basic skills, or maybe you're relying on someone whose own schedule can be unpredictable. Once you have a clear-eyed understanding of how a project could get sidetracked, you can create a range of dates throughout which you can turn in your work. The researchers call this method "creating a virtual bullseye": You've got a likely early date, a likely ideal date, and a likely later date, all within reason.

"This technique can save a manager from spending a lot of time and resources on a deadline that might not matter much in the end," said co-author Robert Bordley in a press release. Talk to your team and manager — it could put you all on a much less stressful path.