Deadlines are something that just about everyone has to deal with. They are pretty much a fact of life at work. We have deadlines to make sure we get things done. So, deadlines are generally assumed to be necessary. And they do enable us to get things done. But there are problems inherent in the idea of a deadline as well, problems we need to be aware of so we can try and avoid them.
The problems arise when we push things off until we see the deadline approaching. This leads to increased levels of stress, which works to impair our performance and even our health. As the deadline looms, our body produces stress hormones, such as cortisol and others, which give us a jolt of energy, and which makes us feel like we can tackle just about anything.
But this situation also has an effect on our brain because it revs up our emotional centers, while at the same time depressing our cognitive centers. As a result, the region of our brain that plays a big role in our emotions, the amygdala, increases in size, while the area primarily responsible for rational thought, the frontal lobe, decreases in size. So, as we gear up to meet that deadline, over and over again, we produce the stress hormones, but our cognitive processes over time will decline. That means our creativity is affected as well.
This gearing up that the body does under stress also affects our health. It causes digestion problems and headaches, for example.
So, what can you do about this? The key is changing your behavior toward deadlines. Set your own deadlines ahead of the official deadline. In fact, you can set several deadlines for yourself for certain phases of your work. If you do this consistently, you will not experience the stress of pushing your official deadline. Your body won’t have to routinely release your stress and anxiety hormones, and your brain will function less with the amygdala and more with your frontal lobe. This means that your cognitive capacities will again take control, and your work should show the difference, being more creative and innovative.
Often we procrastinate and push deadlines because of an attitude of perfectionism. You need to let this go as well if you want to get things done. Perfectionism tends to increase stress.
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