How To Reach Your Goals Using Deadlines And Public Accontability

When you start to think about how we are expected to perform in almost any given area of our life, be that career, family life and so on, you will notice an interesting correlation between how successfully a certain task or goal has been reached with the introduction of deadlines and some sort of punishment. And while questioning common assumptions about how things work is something I usually care to advocate, the reality is that you can use this conditioning in order to perform better.

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This is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all type of thing, but the fact that majority of systems around the world (think education, corporations etc.) are designed to function on this premise probably says something.

Deadlines increase productivity and make goals more attainable

You see, no matter how much we protest against common practices when it comes to productivity and efficiency, statistics and math are here to show us otherwise.

Whenever a deadline is being introduced, results jump up by almost triple. When you associate a certain date with whatever has to be reached, or give yourself a time frame in which something has to be done, there is this feeling of urgency which makes you delve more upon the problem, thus investing hours and finally finding a solution.

Having a deadline it reshapes your mindset so that you find, consciously or subconsciously, a solution to your problem or a way to get to your goal before the deadline expires.

This, in turn, makes you more engaged, more focused, more emotionally invested into the process. For some it becomes a sort of a game, providing fun every time a certain deadline is being chased. It also increases adrenaline and provides for a feeling of increased importance about oneself.

And thinking about deadlines in a way most people perceive them, like being written in stone, can really cause an exercise in frustration and a slight feeling of anxiety. Instead, the analogy is better drawn when you take how one should look upon goals. It is something not necessarily meant to be reached, but serving as a place towards you aim. Same applies here.

Punishment can motivate a great deal

The sweeter carrot or the sharper stick? What is more likely to work?

Well, different circumstances require different approach, but then once again, taking things the way they are in context of society teachings, we are conditioned to respond far better to punishment than to anything else.

Getting the promotion never motivates like trying not to be fired, having an A plus never as much as failing the exam.

And this is so because we quickly rush to associate a certain punishment with the whole arc it can develop in the future. Fearing the outcome hundredth steps ahead, we give the punishment much more weight. Therefore, failing the exam resonates not as something quite harmful, but we add the chain of linked failures to it and quickly rush to associate it with never having the job we want, or being homeless even.

Every small chance of punishment of any kind is thus experienced as something substantially larger. And while this is something to be fought against, it can actually serve you well in certain occasions.

Again, one-size-fits-all is not expected here as well.

However, if you associate failure to reach your goals by a certain point in time with some sort of discomfort, it is very likely that you will work harder towards achieving those goals.

Public accountability increases the chance of reaching your goals

Decades back, and even more so now, we are utterly protective of the image we present of ourselves in public. Social media worked fairly well to enhance this, and we hold ourselves, as well as others, in very high regard.

Being publicly contradicted then is something we strongly oppose.

Think about it in these terms – what will you agree to do in order to avoid public humiliation of any kind? What will you do in order to preserve the picture about yourself, which you so hard worked upon building?

Let me cut you the suspense – it turns out quite a lot.

So why not use this as an advantage? Or even better, why not reinforce it with the previous two?

Here is the experiment I want you guys to take home with you:

Pick one goal you would like to see through (this would be fairly easy because goals are interestingly becoming more and more important part of our lives), decide about a deadline, and as a punishment chose this option of being publicly held accountable.

An example would go something like this:

  • If I don’t end up getting in great shape by this time next year, I will put a photo of me in swimwear, in whatever shape I am, on Facebook.
  • If I fail to launch the new project by the end of this month I will give money to my friend and ask him to donate them, in my name, to an organization I absolutely hate and despise.

You get the idea right?

And the thing is that there is really no end to how creative these ideas can get. You know yourself better than what I or anybody else can assume, so take your time and give this strategy a go. If nothing else it should be a really fun learning experience.

2 opinions already. What's yours?

  1. James

    Nice one Slavko, I’ve never really thought about using public accountability in this way. Gotta try it, my friend for sure would love to hold me accountable for anything. :)

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  2. R.J

    Good point about deadlines Slavko, Tim Ferris made a similar point in one of his books, a shorter time frame basically forces us to finally stop procrastinating and get things done.

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