Management & Organization

Are you more productive just before deadline? You'll probably miss it

The good news: You can do something about it! Research shows, that those of us who prefer working under pressure jeopardizes the deadline of the entire team. But these three simple pieces of advice can help you and your team reach your goals.

A group of researchers at The Technical University of Eindhoven have explored the connection between where in a project you prefers to invest most of your work effort (early, in the middle of or just before deadline) and the teams’ ability to honor deadlines. And results are quite clear: Teams that work closest to deadline more often miss deadlines than teams who invests a greater part of the work effort earlier in the project period.

“Pacing styled” and “temporal reminders” are crucial for making the deadline

The Dutch researchers examined a group of students from a business school in Holland over a period of 8 weeks, where they had to hand in two projects. During the research period the students described their “pacing style” multiple times: When they did most of their work on an assignment. “Pacing style” can be seen as a continuum stretching from the so called “early action” style (starts early and gets the job done in plenty of time before deadline) to the “late action” style (does most of the work just before deadline). Look at the diagram below illustrating the five “pacing styles” the students were asked to evaluate themselves against.


Source: Josette M.P. Gevers, Christel G. Rutte and Wendelien van Eerde:
Meeting Deadlines in Work Groups: Implicit and Explicit Mechanisms.


Groups who finished the assignment just before deadline more often missed the deadline than groups who did most of their work earlier in the project phase. Another interesting discovery was that even a single person with “early action” style could affect the entire groups’ ability to make the deadline positively.

Besides the students’ pacing style the researchers also examined what effect it had on the groups’ ability to honor deadline that, during the project, they reminded each other of the deadline, sub goals and agreements. What researchers calls “temporal reminders”. This also showed a connection. Even in groups with “late action” pacing style the making of a deadline is improved, if the group members talked about the deadline.

But be aware that the researchers do not think, that one’s pacing style is constant. For example, they expect that a tight and important deadline will make everyone work equally concentrated.

How to make a deadline

  1. Know your own and your team's action style

  2. When you create a team, make sure to have at least one person who has the “early action” style

  3. Talk about deadlines, milestones and subtasks during the project. If the group doesn't on it's own,  the leader can make it happen.

Source: Josette M.P. Gevers, Christel G. Rutte and Wendelien van Eerde: 
Meeting Deadlines in Work Groups: Implicit and Explicit Mechanisms.