Before you use the word “deadline” at work again, read this:

Did you ever stop to think about this word? On a regular corporate routine, some of us might not realise the number of terms that were transposed from the military to the business environment. Briefing, target, war room, strategy… The list goes on.

When working on a project, it is common to use “deadline” as the desired date that something must be accomplished. But why? Why use something that starts with “dead” as such a vital part of our work terminology?

According to an article published by Merriam-Webster, the expression “dead line” originated during the American Civil War period, around the 1860s. At the time, the deadline was an actual line, whose definition would be “a line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot.” Cut to 2018, and think about the impact of the metaphor. Think about the times you thought something terrible could happen if you didn’t deliver within the deadline. Think about the moments when someone told you they’d lose the customer, the times you feared for your job or your reputation.

Most of us live in relatively safe situations (far from predators and wars), and yet our brains are wired to constantly prevent us from dying (which is very convenient, I agree). This is a very primitive structure, though, and it is terrible in telling the difference between a threat to our feelings and an actual life threat.

Ironically enough, our amygdala (which is linked to our fear response) doesn’t know how to differentiate a deadline of a project from an actual deadline that will actually get you shot.

Giving things their right name is essential. The implications of having filled our work environment with war terms are tremendous.

I want to believe we are past seeing everyone else as the enemy and seeing them as potential collaborators. Fear should never be our drive.

I don’t use “deadline” anymore. Desired dates, planned dates, due dates, name what you will… should be a celebration of an achievement, a milestone, not a matter of survival. (if you want to learn more about the origin of the word, check the origin of the word on Merriam-Webster”)

Post originally published on instagram.com/thebetterachiever

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Carol Milters

Writer, facilitator and investigator of burnout, workaholism and the culture of mental health at work.

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