After finding the source of word deadline, I urge all businesspersons not to confuse deadlines with due dates or target dates. The term deadline first appeared in the 19th century when prisoners were shot if they crossed a certain perimeter line. That’s how it got the name “deadline.” Going beyond that line meant certain death.

Newspapers picked up on the term to indicate the time that all copy had to be ready if it were to appear in the next issue of the paper being printed. If you did not get the article in by the deadline, you didn’t get it in the next edition, and perhaps never. Not as dire a result as death, but serious, nonetheless.

As we use it today in business, it means that there is no point in working on the task beyond that date, since it would be too late to receive any benefit from having done the task. For example, if the deadline for a report to be ready for a specific meeting had passed, it would be impossible to discuss or approve the report at that meeting. It caused some problem no doubt, but perhaps not as costly as being scooped by a rival newspaper, and certainly not a matter of life or death as in the case of the prisoners.

In these examples, if you missed the deadline, you would not be shot, at least not in this country. But your career or chance of promotion might be, depending upon the seriousness of the loss and the leniency of the boss or organization.

Missing a deadline is a serious matter, and deadlines should not be set if you really mean a due date or a target date. These latter terms refer to dates to aim for, with the understanding that extenuating circumstances might prevent them from being met precisely on the dates or times set. They could be achieved either earlier or a little later. There would be a concern, however, if one were continually late with assignments, whether in business, school, or a home environment. But due dates or target dates are negotiable, while deadlines are not.

It would be helpful if a company distinguished between deadlines and either due dates or target dates. That would communicate to everyone the relative importance of every assignment in terms of its timing. And it might relieve some of the stress that seems to accompany deadlines. It would be much more serious to miss a deadline because you will have wasted time and effort and money and have nothing to show for it. Giving all assignments a deadline gives equal importance or unimportance to everything. And it is a rather ominous term. Most managers ask for assignments to be completed a few days before they need them anyway.

If you are on the receiving end of assignments, you can ensure completion on time by blocking off time in your planning calendar to get the job done. If you already have other assignments scheduled in your planner at those times that prevent you from doing this, see the person you report to immediately so he or she can prioritize them and change the due dates accordingly. Never wait until the last minute to say you don’t have time to do something. Be proactive.

I have more to say about this topic, but I’m on a self-imposed “deadline” and if I miss it, my dream of having a career in writing is shot. Oh, how I hate that word deadline.