A photo of an hour glass, signifying that time is running out.

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According to a study from professors at the Walter J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, deadlines lead to more mistakes. Professors looked at patent applications from thousands of firms over several decades, and what they found was that paperwork filed close to its due date was both more complex and had more mistakes. From this they have surmised that, when given a deadline, most people will keep procrastinating until the task is due.

For the most part, it sounds like common sense; the more a person rushes to complete a task, the more mistakes are made. But it’s more complicated than that.

For example, Fast Company magazine writes that, “the more stressful a deadline is, the less open you are to other ways of approaching the problem.” Deadlines cause the brain to enter a state of hyper-focus, and when the brain enters this state, it blocks out all other distractions and thoughts that aren’t directly related to the task at hand.

For the most part, this is a good thing and results in productivity. However, when there is too much pressure, it results in the brain going into panic mode. Panic mode causes the body to enter an emotional state of stress, which is responsible for the irrational type of thinking that results in mistakes. All the sudden, the human brain switches from a mindset of “get it done right” to just “get it done.”

But like most things, the answer is to try and find a happy medium. Numerous studies have shown that deadlines do result in a greater amount of tasks completed. But if the deadlines are too tight and too stressful, the amount of mistakes being made will likely take even more time to fix than it would have taken to complete the task correctly from the get-go. In other words, shoot for a deadline that is realistic, but also slightly challenging.


Martin Ackerman is a freelance writer and current editor originally from Staten Island, NY. His university schooling focused on English education and Japanese. He has a (not so secret) passion for art history and political science. When he isn't writing or editing you can find him at sci-tech conventions, building the latest LEGO city or pampering his cat, Tea. You can follow him on Twitter @MarMackerman.