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Excuses, Deadlines, and Commitments

Earlier this year, I hired a man who is an expert at optimizing websites for local Google search results. I agreed to pay him $900 per month to optimize my website at For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “Jim.”

Everything went well during the first few months of working with Jim, but then his performance started slipping. At one point, he failed to get an important project done because the person he assigned it to was sick and “had other things come up” that prevented her from working on the project. He emailed me and explained the reasons that the work didn’t get done.

I responded to his email by stating that his “reasons” were nothing more than excuses and that he should have done the work himself or assigned it to someone else. He was highly offended by my email and found it hard to believe that I would question his integrity and accuse him of making excuses. Despite his irritation with me, he redeemed himself by quickly completing the project.

Last month, I had a conference call with Jim and we decided that he would create several new pages for my website that would highlight certain types of cases that I handle. At the beginning of this month, I asked him to provide me with a timeline for getting the pages completed. He responded by telling me that he thought he could get the pages done within two weeks, but he wasn’t sure because he had to be in the right frame of mind to write the pages.

I waited two and a half weeks and then I emailed him and asked if he was going to be able to get the pages completed by the end of the month. Several emails were then exchanged between us in which he refused to commit to a date that he would have the pages completed. Here are the final emails that were exchanged between us:

From Harry to Jim – August 21, 8:46 AM: Are we going to be able to get the new pages up this month?

From Jim to Harry – August 21, 1:38 PM: Getting the new pages up is mainly a matter of my editing them, which I’d like and maybe need to do. Relatively time intensive. But I can skip that if you’d just like the pages up and “pretty good” for now. Please let me know.

From Harry to Jim – August 21, 4:29 PM: How much of your time will you have to invest to get the pages edited? By what date can you have the editing completed?

From Jim to Harry – August 21, 4:54 PM: That depends on the scope of the edits. Do you want the short glove or the long glove? The former would result in pages that are quite good, but that we’d probably agree could use a little further work at some point. The product of the latter would be pages that are as near to perfect as possible. That also has bearing on the date, though in either case I can’t commit to a HARD date – only a tentative one. But as you know by now, I do stick closely to my estimates.

From Harry to Jim – August 21, 5:00 PM: I need for you to commit to some dates. What’s the date for short glove and what’s the date for long glove.

From Jim to Harry – August 21, 5:14 PM: For now, I can commit to rough dates, unless you’d like to elaborate on why, specifically, you “need” a “hard” date (other than simply wanting to keep things moving, which they are). The “short glove” I should be able to do before 8/25. The “long glove,” most likely some time before 9/1. Please let me know.

From Harry to Jim – August 22, 4:47 PM: Let’s go with September 1 for the long glove version. There are two primary reasons that I insist on deadlines: (1) a lot more is always accomplished when people who are involved in a project commit to deadlines, and (2) the setting of deadlines reduces the likelihood of confusion and misunderstandings between the people who are involved in a project.

As a lawyer, I am constantly facing deadlines that are set by the courts. Like most people, I don’t like deadlines, but I know that without them, I wouldn’t get as much accomplished and everything would be more chaotic.

My employees don’t like deadlines, but they know that if they’re working on an important project for me, we always set deadlines for tasks to get completed. By setting deadlines, we’re able to continue to move forward without long, unexpected delays.

When there are no deadlines, there’s a much higher likelihood of a misunderstanding between the people who are working on a project. One person may believe that a week is plenty of time to get a task done, while another person thinks that three weeks is appropriate.

Insisting on deadlines forces the people who are involved in a project to have one or more discussions about what’s expected of everyone and to explain to each other what their concerns are. They can then make commitments as to when they can get their tasks completed. The discussions that lead up to the deadline commitments help to properly frame everyone’s expectations, so the likelihood of a misunderstanding is significantly reduced.

One of the biggest problems that we face in all our relationships is when one person has certain expectations and the other person has different expectations. If my wife expects me to be home by 6 p.m. and I work late on an important project and don’t get home until 11 p.m., there may be a problem because we had different expectations. The problem could have easily been avoided if a discussion had taken place prior to 6 p.m.

If I expect to have a good, productive, long-term relationship with someone who is assisting me with a business-related project, I want to make sure that we’re always on the same page concerning the expectations we have for each other. The best way to do that is to discuss the work that is required, iron out any disagreements, and then commit to deadlines for the tasks that need to be completed.

I hope you’re not taking my insistence on setting deadlines personally. I ask everyone that I do business with over an extended period of time to commit to deadlines. I also welcome requests for me to commit to deadlines on tasks that I’m working on. By doing that, we know what to expect of each other and can plan our work accordingly.

I’m looking forward to receiving the new pages from you.

As you can see, Jim tried everything he could to avoid committing to a deadline. Because of his unwillingness to accept responsibility and make a commitment as to when he could complete the pages, I was forced to spend extra time and energy to correspond back and forth with him.

If he continues to behave this way, I’m going to stop doing business with him. I shouldn’t have to wrestle with him about making a commitment as to when a task will be completed, and I shouldn’t have to educate him as to how he should behave and run his business.

One of the biggest problems that I run into when I work with other business people is their unwillingness to make commitments and take responsibility for their actions. If Jim simply did business the way it should be done, he could count on earning more than $10,000 per year from me for the next several years. Because of his unwillingness to make commitments and schedule deadlines, he is going to end up losing a highly motivated, good-paying customer.

This problem does not only exist in business. It also exists in our spiritual lives. One of the biggest impediments to enhancing our relationship with God is our unwillingness to make new commitments to specific actions that will lead us to greater holiness.

Prior to His incarnation, the Son of God made a commitment to allow mere mortals to crucify Him so each of us could be saved. If He was willing to make that kind of commitment, why do we find it so difficult to commit to simple things that will actually make us holier, such as attending daily Mass or praying a daily rosary?

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One Response to “Excuses, Deadlines, and Commitments”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Dear Georgette and Harry –
    Again, a splendid explanation of the NEED for commitments, and I would add, sticking to one’s promises.
    Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if everyone would think in terms of the Example of Jesus! I can, in my mind’s eye, see Jesus, in His growing years, and through His Crucifixion, following His Father in Heaven’s “guidelines”!
    Blessings to you both, and your loving family! Sister Roberta

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