Why It Doesn’t Pay to Extend a Schedule
Construction project schedules are extended for many reasons, one of which is to avoid turn-ing over an incomplete store to operations. While this sounds like a reasonable idea, the result would surprise you.
Research suggests that time extensions have limited impact on how well people use their time. The reasons? A Harvard Business Review article by Heidi Grant explains:
Problem #1: We Lose Motivation
It was first observed by researchers in the early part of the last century that one’s motivation to reach a goalincreases as one’s distance from the goal de-creases. Psychologists call this largely unconscious mechanism the “Goal Looms Larger Effect,” meaning that the nearer you are to the finish line, the larger the goal “looms” in your mind — the more it dominates your thinking, and benefits from your attention.
Problem #2: We Procrastinate
When pressure is alleviated, it’s easier for those with a tendency to procrasti-nate to delay. Most procrastinators have a misconception that they work better under pres-sure. Psychologically, saying one works better under pressure makes zero sense, because “pressure” is just another way of saying “just barely sufficient time to complete whatever I’m doing.” It’s really far more accurate to say that if you are a procrastinator, you work be-cause there is pressure. Without pressure, you don’t work. Which is why push-ing back a deadline is absolutely terrible for procrastinators. (Though naturally, they are usually the ones asking for extensions in the first place.)
Problem #3: We Reallocate Resources
As soon as the pressure to complete a project is removed, resources are re-allo-cated to other pressing jobs or activities. It is then harder to get those resources back on-track once they’ve already diverted their attention.
How to Make Good Use of an Extended Deadline
If we want to solve Problems 1 & 2 — keeping motivation high and keeping the pressure on for procrastinators — we need to find ways to shorten the distance between where we are now and where we want to end up.
To solve Problem 3, the most effective solution is to impose interim deadlines, effectively breaking a larger goal up into discrete sub-goals spaced out strate-gically in time.
These deadlines need to be meaningful as well — if it’s no big deal to miss the deadline, then it’s not a real deadline. If it’s not possible to set interim dead-lines, then you really should try to avoid pushing back your deadline altogether. The odds are good that you’ll have little to show for it but wasted time.