Deadlines are not a new concept. In fact, you probably work best with a hard, external deadline. The magic of external deadlines is they keep you from falling prey to excuses and require you to focus because they leave no other option than to show up and deliver.
But what happens when you create deadlines for yourself that are basically arbitrary due dates you selected, knowing that if you accomplish them, they will propel you toward achieving your goals? Particularly entrepreneurs, who are their own bosses and generally have no one to answer to when they fail to meet their own internal deadlines? The result is that we tend to continually push them back when we get “busy” or “sick” or “overwhelmed” or “just don’t feel like doing it.” That is no way to charge forward toward your goals and vision of success. I would even venture to call it self-sabotage.
External deadlines have a much better chance of succeeding because you deal with them differently. They are promised to others so you assume such deadlines are set in stone and cannot be changed, making you less likely to break them. On the other hand, internal deadlines set for yourself leave plenty of room for internal negotiating over possible outcomes, the quality, the quantity, or the due date. The problem is whenever you talk yourself out of meeting an internal deadline, you are negotiating yourself out of success.
You would never call a big client and say, “Yeah, about the training on Friday… can we change it to next month? Because, well, life happened and I just don’t have time to prepare for it this week.” The deadline is the deadline. For example, if you do not deliver training by the date written in the contract, you lose your pay, muddy your reputation, and risk losing all future business from that client. You would never make that call and yet those are the exact types of conversations you have with yourself over your internal deadlines.
You negotiate with yourself on the deadlines you create for yourself all the time even though those deadlines are often based on outcomes or milestones your business must hit to reach the next level of success. And you know what? You are not just putting those milestones off by days or weeks. You are often putting them off by months or years. Continuously putting your internal deadlines on the back burner will keep you on a plateau of little to no growth. You can rationalize with yourself all you want with the “maybe next month or “maybe next quarter” but doing so has huge implications for your business or career. You must hold your deadlines to yourself just as sacred as you would to others. The key is creating external accountability for your internal deadlines.
Here are six tips for creating the external accountability your internal deadlines need to succeed.
1. Announce it
I announced on my podcast that I had a new program coming up and I would be launching it on a particular date. Announcing that deadline to my thousands of listeners created immediate accountability and you better believe I had it done and ready on time. It is creating those kinds of big deadlines and sticking to the challenge of completing them that will give you the biggest jumps on growth in your business.
2. Commit to it
Knowing I wanted to create a new keynote speech, I pitched a brand-new topic I had not written yet to a prospective client, complete with a working title and speaking points. Once I sent the email and even more when I signed the contract, I knew I absolutely had to write it. There was no turning back. I had committed to deliver a brand-new keynote for an event that was quickly approaching.
3. Schedule it
When starting my podcast, I decided I would put out a new episode every Monday at 3 am. I created those deadlines strictly for myself, knowing it would be up to me to consistently do the prep work and record each episode in time. But alas, a few months in I had already talked myself out of those hard deadlines, settling for Monday afternoon and even Tuesday morning drops.
I knew I needed a stronger plan so I created external accountability by notifying my podcast listeners and newsletter subscribers of my Monday-at-3 am-drops. I told them on-air, in written content, and on images exactly when to expect a new episode each week. No more drops at random hours. Now, they rely on me to deliver what I promised to their feeds and inboxes each Monday at 3 am and I feel obligated to make that happen.
4. Post it
I see this a lot with weight and health goals. People will post a “before” picture of themselves on social media and announce their goal of losing a specific number of pounds in a certain number of weeks. They may not even know most of their friends or followers and yet, they feel socially accountable to them to lose the weight, write the book, launch the program, or complete the you-name-it by their posted deadline.
5. Tell your support system
Your support system is made up of the best friends and family members you can count on to support you through both failures and successes in your business and personal life. They are the people you can 100% confide in because they are going nowhere. Tell your support system your deadlines and what achieving them means to you so they can help hold you accountable to follow through with them.
Some time ago, one of my girlfriends mentioned she had extremely low energy and admitted she had felt that way for a long time. As someone who cares deeply about her, I made her commit to getting bloodwork done the following day. I went the extra step of telling her I would text her tomorrow to confirm she had booked the appointment. The next day, I followed through with my promise and sure enough, she had booked her bloodwork appointment for that afternoon. My girlfriend had been saying she would do that for over a year, but it took her finally being held accountable by her support system to take action. Nothing else had changed.
6. Empower your team
Don’t just tell your team about your deadlines. Empower them to hold you accountable to them. Put your important deadlines on your team members’ calendars, too, and request that they periodically and reasonably ask you about your progress. When your assistant says, “Hey, do you still plan on creating that proposal by Friday?” on Wednesday, it brings that task to mind and goes a long way toward holding you accountable because it makes you feel like you’re being counted on to produce what you said you would.
Business owners do not purposefully miss or put off deadlines because they aim to screw their success trajectory. Instead, they casually put off deadlines because you feel justified in doing so. “My kids have a lot going on this month” or “I’ve been sick” or “I’ve been traveling” may seem like sound justifications to put off deadlines but they are just excuses. And trust me, you will always have plenty of excuses not to make your internal deadlines. That is why it is necessary to create external accountability that thwarts you from pushing deadlines back.
According to author Christine Ammer on History.net, the “first written record of the word [deadline] appeared in an 1864 report by Col. D.T. Chandler.” A later report from Captain Walter Bowie to Col. Chandler describes the seriousness of deadlines. He talks about a physical line that prisoners could not cross. “On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it, there is a dead-line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot.”
Thankfully, you do not risk capital punishment when you miss your internal deadlines but you are still risking a lot. When you continually miss your deadlines, you are pushing back the tasks and projects that matter. You are pushing back the milestones you had aimed to hit to achieve your goals. You are pushing back the timeline you had established to grow your business or your career. And quite frankly, you are risking your success because the act of pushing back deadlines tends to become more frequent and even routine, leaving you with goals that are always outside your reach. Make it a point to create external accountability for your internal deadlines to give them (and you) the best shot at success.