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Is that a deadline?

2 April 2020

What day is it?

I’m pretty sure that it’s Friday, but at times this week, it’s been hard to tell. Running a small business (and I imagine an enornormous corporation too) feels relentless in a global pandemic.

Please don’t stop reading though; this isn’t yet another blog about getting dressed and keeping a routine whilst working from home (do whatever works for you).

I want to introduce you to the concept of a dreadline. Not a deadline, but a dreadline. It’s something me and my team come back to frequently at EBHQ when juggling multiple projects. It’s also rather useful when your schedule is a bit more fluid, like it might be now.


Deadlines are a real thing. They are when something has to happen. There are consequences if it doesn’t happen by then. You don’t get paid. Your orders don’t get dispatched. You miss your connecting flight. The must-do. The non-negotiable.

A dreadline is something that, on the face of it, looks the same. But, trust us, it isn’t. The dreadline is often self-imposed. “I will get that newsletter written today” is a perfect example. In all honesty, would you have minded if this had landed in your inbox a day later? Probably not. We often set ourselves arbitrary deadlines and then berate ourselves for missing them. The should-do, could-do, would-like-to.

Procrastination is a hard habit to break, and by setting ourselves a mental deadline we might feel like we’re helping ourselves deliver tasks. However if you frequently find yourself disappointed at the end of the day when you’ve missed your fictional deadline, you might not be helping your mental health or your company culture.

Dreadlines can also come from clients and projects. You know the ones. The ones that always push the deadlines down the road at the last minute. It often accompanies an ever-morphing brief or a never-arriving scope of work. This is one of the reasons we issue contracts for all our work and are always tightening our briefing processes for creative projects. Over time these dreadlines erode enthusiasm and corrode confidence on both sides.

As a project manager, I love working to a plan and hitting a milestone more than most. So when the wave of overwhelm approaches my team collectively, or we individually need to prioritise things outside of EBHQ for a while, we often check in with our deadlines and dreadlines. Deadlines skip to the front of the queue. Dreadlines we re-evaluate to give ourselves the time and mental space we need.

Full disclosure: Deadline vs dreadline isn’t an original EB concept. It’s just one of many awesome essays by Jason Freid and David Heinemeier Hansson in their New York Times bestseller Rework. If you are looking for a business book to read this should go straight to the top of the pile. Rework is a straight forward and straight-talking take on how you can run a modern business.

If you want help to review your task management, or discuss dreadlines a bit more, then let's chat at a time that suits you.