How to Enforce Deadlines

Learn how you can best get people to meet their deadlines.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #155

Add Carrots and Sticks to Enforce Deadlines

For more advice on how to enforce deadlines, I had to ask Europa. Europa is a control queen. Her family moved often while she was growing up. Other little girls played house, she went to the beach and played Pirates. Her favorite part was pillaging. A brief successful singing and acting career gave her the seed capital to build a shady business empire that includes most of the Eastern Bloc, which she controls through shell corporations. She’s good at getting people to deliver.

Europa explained that you must use carrots and sticks: reward and punishment. If someone misses their deadline, throw carrots at them. At high velocity, carrots hurt. Punishment can be extreme, like a rule that says being late three times in a year is grounds for eliminating a writer’s column. Or the punishment can be milder. A late column is left blank with the single sentence “So-and-so did not submit a column this week.” That isn’t even punishment; newspapers do it when regular columnists are sick or on vacation.

You can also reward good behavior by using a stick. Put a marshmallow on the end of the stick and toast it until it’s a delicious golden brown. Then put it right in front of them in all it’s gooey delicious goodness, and say, “If you meet your deadline, you can eat the marshmallow!” You’ll have writers climbing over each other to meet that deadline!

Enforce Deadlines with Competition

In addition, Europa says, you shouldtry competition. Have freelancers compete with staff writers to get the most prominent columns. If a freelancer or volunteer wants to write one and gets it in before the staff writer, the staff writer loses their place that issue.

The Nuclear Option

Lastly, there’s what Europa calls her “nuclear option.” (With her, you never quite know if she’s being literal.) Call your writer into your office. Say, “You’re fired. Your column is canceled. Fortunately, that means we have an extra slot on staff, so you can apply to fill it. Pitch me on why I should take you.” Now discuss things like meeting deadlines. That is basically clubbing your writer over the head with the fact that their job is to write a column by a deadline. If they aren’t meeting their deadlines, they aren’t doing their job and should probably find employment elsewhere.

Don’t let yourself take the burden of other people’s missed deadlines! It isn’t fair. First try giving informational feedback privately. Then try public. Then add rewards and punishments. Try competition, and lastly, make your people aware that meeting the deadline is part of the minimum job requirements, not simply a nice-to-have.

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Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Employees image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.