Posted by: kenwbudd | October 4, 2009

Setting Deadlines = Completing Tasks

How often have you found yourself sitting late at the office, answering e-mails whilst on the phone, or setting up a second meeting to discuss everything that didn’t get decided in the first? More than once, I guess!

Managers have too many tasks to complete. All of them competing urgently for their close attention, and switching between them or worrying about one while working on another can often lead to inefficiencies and mistakes.

At the risk of stating the obvious, completing one task makes it easier to focus on the next one, but it would appear that most managers only enjoy this advantage if they complete the first task on a tight deadline. Hmm!

US studies that required people to simultaneously, complete a word puzzle and appraise a candidate’s resume, whilst giving different individual participants different deadlines, produced very strange results.

In the first instance, they found that finishing a task did not necessarily cause people to disengage from the initial job and move on to the next one. Instead, when people had no time pressure or constraints, they tended to have more “attention residue,” meaning that thoughts about how they performed on the first task affected their performance on the second.

In the second instance, when people were given a deadline in which to finish a job and did so, meeting the deadline, it gave them more confidence and a better sense of closure. They were also better able to disengage from the first task and shift their attention to the next.


Task-by-task performance improves when employees can quickly and clearly stop thinking about the last task they performed. Adding constraints and time pressures to task completion greatly helps people in shifting their attention and focus. Moving them on constructively and effectively.


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