If there is no penalty - it's not a deadline.
That's the headline - but if we look a little bit deeper we might find that there are a lot of in-built penalties:
- Project is delayed - you set the deadline for a reason, and you also set it when you had a nice global big-picture view of where you wanted to be. If a project that you want to be successful is delayed then that's it's own penalty.
- Loss of face - in the outside world your penalty might be the loss of face or personal reputation in the eyes of the people who were expecting you to meet that deadline. For personal projects that aspect is still true, you are risking self-esteem and a certain amount of our own identity if you can't cope with your own deadlines.
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So another issue to consider is flexibility - one of the very powerful things I got from Randy Pausch's Time Management talk about deadlines was this:
Never break a promise, but renegotiate them if need be. If you've
said: "I have this done by Tuesday at noon", you can call the person
on Friday and say, "I'm still go to my word but I'm really jacked up
and I'm going to have to stay and work over the weekend to meet that
Tuesday deadline. Is there any way there's any slack on that?" And a
lot of times I say: "Thursday's fine." Because I really needed it
Thursday, but I told you Tuesday." Or they'll say: "It's no problem, I
can have Jim do that instead of you. He has some free time." Now if
they say: "No, there's no wiggle room here", you say: "That's okay, no
problem, I'm still go to my word."
which has been wonderful for flexibility in time management and for not letting people down. The problem with personal deadlines is that when you negotiate with yourself things can go very wrong - maybe this is why so many people have the thought process "I was going to start my diet today but X, Y and Z came up so I'll start tomorrow." As an example - I renegotiate my getting out of bed time on a regular basis. So I would try and make sure you have someone to be accountable to. Even if it's just a friend who is interested in your day. This can be the person who is willing to call you out when you move a deadline that you didn't have to.