How to Conquer Deadline Pressure

Ian Carroll
5 min readNov 27, 2017


If you’re like me, you love software. It has manifold variations and utility. We are only just scratching the surface. A whole universe exists in its depths, one which could benefit our lives and transform human experience for the better. Exploring those depths and surfacing with a new tool that no one has ever built before is a dream given form. It turns you into Prometheus bringing fire except you get to bring that fire over and over again with each new project.

So why are you spending your time being crushed under the weight of impossible expectations?

If you are like me, you’ve also experienced the misery of software. Incessant demands, childish requests, impossible deadlines, and a looming dread that you’re not going to make it this time. You know that you want to experience the love of software again. Perhaps it’s been so long, you’ve almost completely forgotten what it’s like. Even after a single week of deadline pressure, I almost completely forgot that feeling of joy even existed. But it’s not gone forever. You can get it back. Why?

Because the only difference between being crushed under the pressure of responsibilities and flying where no developer has gone before is your state of mind.

I’m going to make the assumption you don’t prefer to be crushed by deadline pressure. Let’s look at how that undesirable state comes to be.

Symptoms of Deadline Pressure:
Isolating yourself
* Long Hours
* Powering Through
* Long Hours Debugging
* Reaching for the Result
* “Temporarily” Suspending Best Practices and Principles
* Endless bugs hiding other bugs hiding even more bugs

If any of the above applies to you, you’re falling under pressure.

Results of Deadline Pressure:
Getting lost in the weeds.
Less results even though you’ve worked longer hours.
* Less efficient use of time because you’re working late anyway.
* Even less efficient use of time as you track down an endless series of bugs.
* Total inability to estimate, because who knows if this is the last bug or not.

This was the general feeling and end result of my bout with deadline pressure. My apprenticeship at 8th Light is nearing the end. My mentor had given me a task to rewrite my Java server, but this time using reactive observers and an asynchronous thread pool. I’ve never worked with either of those things before. I felt I was running out of time. I needed to get this server up and running so I could complete my apprenticeship on time. And that’s where I slipped from boldly exploring the frontiers of software to being crushed under the weight of deadlines. I thought “It’s nearly the end, I’ll just sprint to the finish”, So I worked 14 hour days. I got up in the morning. I coded until I went to sleep at night.

Code. Sleep. Repeat.

And for my effort, I didn’t even get a working server. Sacrificing my personal time and “pulling out the stops” had the opposite effect to the one intended. Maybe this story is sounding familiar?

So what’s the cause? I suppose I could blame the circumstances in which I was placed. I don’t think that’s particularly fair in my case. Every crafter at 8th Light has walked this ground. But maybe in yours, you have a demanding boss or an unforgiving company culture. Perhaps there are those who “want what they want and they want it now, not excuses.” You must deliver. So you succumb to deadline pressure. You are forced into working long hours debugging, isolating yourself, and sacrificing time with your family without even the consolation of having done a good job.

Or maybe you don’t have to…

I’m going to get a little metaphysical, here. Or maybe psychological. Forgive me. But whatever that boss or that culture is, you will never know it. All you will know is what you think about that boss or that culture. After all, does your boss have an accurate image of you in her head? My bet is no. And even if it’s yes (about as likely as a whale being spontaneously generated seven miles above the surface of the planet), that image will only coincidentally correlate to you. You and what anyone else thinks about you are not the same object.

Likewise, who they actually are, and who you think they are are not the same object. You have no idea what your actual boss is like. You have no idea what anything is actually like. You only have what you think.

So what are you reacting to by giving in to deadline pressure from your boss?

Much like a nightmare turned lucid dream, you are the one in command, not your boss, not your culture. If those things even exist, all you will ever know about them is whatever opinion you hold right now. You can turn them into whatever you desire.

No, I don’t mean you can physically turn your boss into a pot of petunias with your mind. But you decide who your boss is to you, and how you are going to relate to her. You decide what the company culture is. And by acting on those chosen assumptions, you will make it so.

You do that by not fearing the deadline. I know it’s scary. I am freaking terrified of the end of my apprenticeship. But don’t fear. Fear is the mind killer.

And don’t reach for that result. I know you want the result. I really want to complete my apprenticeship and make my mentor proud. But don’t reach. Reaching is the mind… ah, just don’t do it.

The point is you get to choose your story. You choose who you are. You choose who your boss is to you. You choose what the situation means to you. And from that you will have control enough to make choices out of trust and courage rather than fear and desperate hope.

Once you have that sufficiently squared away, you should communicate with your boss. No. Not boss. Teammate. Communicate with your teammate. Let your teammate know who you are, what you do, and what you are facing right now. Don’t worry if they treat you weird at first. They’ll get you so long as you are consistent, respectful and understand their needs. Once everyone is on the same page, and working from the culture you have set (at least well enough), then you can proceed to take them along as you boldly explore the frontiers of software and what new possibilities exist.



Ian Carroll

Software Crafter at 8th Light Consultancy, Organizer for Fullstack LA meetup, Eagle Scout, Theatre Person, Taoist Philosopher among other passions.