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3 Ways to Avoid Being the Prey

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines - the one true motivator to get work done. The problem with deadlines is that even if the promised delivery date falls within the deadline, the Requestor still sweats until the job is done by the person actually doing the work. This leads to the inevitable visits to the worker's office for constant (and unnecessary) progress updates.

Last week I was asked to edit a PowerPoint presentation. The requested deadline was "by the end of the week". I agreed to the deadline, but I had a full schedule, so I only planned to deliver it by lunch on Thursday (the last day of my work-week). I knew it was a one or two-hour task, so I wasn't worried about delivering it on time. I suffered through the constant visits and reminders from the Requestor, but I stood my ground and stuck to my schedule – after all, he wasn't the only one to whom I had promised work.

I am reading a fascinating book by Nir Eyal called "Hooked", about how companies build habit-forming products. While on the way to work that Thursday morning, I read a section of the book about "rewards". When I sent the Requestor the edited PowerPoint that morning, I added a little note, which I based on a part of that chapter:
There is a tribe in Africa called San – one of the last tribes that still uses a hunting method that pre-dates spears. The San hunt kudu (it’s like a large deer) by separating one from its pack and then chasing it. The kudu is very fast, but it is also hairy. After about eight hours under the hot African sun, the kudu grows too hot and weary to keep running. The San hunter, who has been chasing the kudu all this time, catches up with it. Exhausted, the kudu collapses in surrender. The 100-pound San hunter pulls out a simple knife and kills the 500-pound beast with little resistance. This is called “persistence hunting”.
There is no need to ask me every day about my progress with this PPT. I promised you that I would deliver the PPT by the end of the week, and I did. Please don’t use the “persistence hunting” method with me :-)
The Requestor, amused by my anecdote – and impressed with (or frightened by) my knowledge of hunting methods – reacted positively. And herein lies the message - you can avoid being the prey if you have:
  1. Integrity: if you commit to a deadline, make sure to always deliver on time (emergencies notwithstanding).
  2. Strength: don't let Requestors push you around – just because they ask for work to be done, it doesn't give them the right to lord over your every waking hour.
  3. Humor: sometimes you can admonish someone and yet maintain good relations by injecting a little (but not too much) lightheartedness into your message.

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