“Tighter Deadlines Work Better Than Longer Ones—and Make Your Goals Concrete”

From a New York Times essay by Christopher Cox headlined “Biden Is Missing Out on Something, and It’s Called a Deadline”:

The first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency were a giddy time for Democrats. After being shut out of the White House for four years — and blocked from enacting their agenda since they lost control of the House of Representatives in 2010 — they came in hot, passing a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill within weeks of the inauguration. As the clock ticked down to Day 100, Mr. Biden signed a stack of executive orders…easily met his promise of administering 200 million vaccine doses nationwide.

What are the president’s supporters feeling now? It’s not giddiness, though the tentative agreement on a framework for infrastructure spending has delivered a shot of optimism for the summer. Still, a framework is not a law; it’s not even a bill. Without the urgency provided by a 100-day window, the whole political process has slowed down.

There’s a clear pattern: The goals Mr. Biden anchored to a specific date — those 200 million shots, Covid-19 relief before supplemental unemployment benefits expired on March 14 — are the ones he has achieved. Others that are to be done merely as soon as possible are languishing. April headlines like “Joe Biden’s First 100 Days Reshaped America” have given way to editorials warning that the president’s legislative agenda has hit a wall.

Perhaps, to keep an infrastructure bill moving along, the president could announce that the second hundred days of his administration are just as important as the first hundred and that he wants to sign a bill before we reach Day 200….

If Mr. Biden could be persuaded to do something like that, he would be drawing on the power of an overlooked tool in our quest to get things done: the deadline.

I’ve spent the past few years studying the effects that deadlines have on productivity by closely observing a variety of organizations racing the clock to get a big project or series of projects done….In each case, one thing was immediately obvious: Deadlines, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, concentrate the mind wonderfully….

Experiments have verified that self-imposed deadlines are nearly as effective as mandatory ones. In his book “Predictably Irrational,” the psychologist Dan Ariely recounted assigning his students evenly spaced due dates for each of their papers or letting them pick their own due dates. Some students chose to turn everything in on the last day of class and did poorly, but those who gave themselves evenly spaced deadlines matched the performance of students with mandatory deadlines….

In my research, I found many examples of tighter deadlines working better than long ones….

Mr. Biden could also borrow some tactics from what’s known as goal-setting theory, which holds that you should make your goals concrete and difficult in order to achieve them. It’s an antidote to the vagueness of “as soon as possible” and “do your best,” the attitude that seems to be prevailing among the Democrats today….

During the previous administration, the idea of infrastructure week became a rolling punchline for Donald Trump’s inability to get things done. If Mr. Biden wants to avoid that fate, he needs to unleash a whirlwind of deadlines: a real infrastructure week after Congress returns this month, voting rights legislation passed by Aug. 6, a reconciliation bill covering the administration’s other wish-list items by Sept. 30. Find a date to hang your initiative on and don’t let go.

Mr. Biden has said he wants to emulate President Franklin Roosevelt, the architect of the first first 100 days. In a fireside chat he gave on July 24, 1933, he took credit for what his administration accomplished during the “crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal.” But he didn’t stop there. The work of the first 100 days was merely the beginning: “We have built a granite foundation in a period of confusion,” he said. There were 4,277 days left in his presidency — 4,277 chances to set a deadline and get things right.

Christopher Cox is the author of the forthcoming book “The Deadline Effect: How to Work Like It’s the Last Minute — Before the Last Minute,” from which this essay is adapted.



Speak Your Mind