The Scientific Reason You Miss Deadlines

woman, phone
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

If deadlines and to-do-dates seem to escape your mind on a regular basis, don't beat yourself up; it may actually be the fault of circumstances outside your control. According to new research, there's a scientific reason people miss deadlines that all comes down to your exposure to routine and schedules as a child. So in other words, you can blame Mom, Dad, or whoever else had a hand in raising you for your inability to get stuff done on time... at least in part.

The study, which comes out of SUNY's University at Albany and is published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, found that those of us who grew up with the monotony of reliable routine and set schedules are far less likely to have time management issues as adults. This conclusion was reached after psychologists quizzed 292 undergraduates on their childhood routines, focusing on the regularity of meals, sleeping habits, time spent with friends and family, and hobbies. According to the results of this quiz, those with a more consistent set of activities as children were found to have better attention spans and fewer issues with time management.

Speaking on the findings, study author Dr. Jennifer Malatras, a psychologist at the University at Albany, told the Huffington Post, “This study is part of a broader line of research exploring the relationship between the stability of the family environment and adjustment in children, adolescents and emerging adults. Our research suggests greater regularity in family activities and routines is associated with fewer problems overall, and, importantly, we believe it may be possible to improve the regularity of family routines even when it may be less feasible to alter more global aspects of family stability.”

This current study echoes countless previous research that heralds childhood routine as the answer to behavioral issues and fewer problems later on in life. One of the most comprehensive of these studies focused on 405 American mothers and 207 infants in 2009, and concluded that a regular bedtime routine for children created faster sleep onset, fewer night wakening episodes, and improved moods. Indeed, according to behavioral expert and educator Elaine Comeo, implementing routine early on will instill habits of self-discipline later on in life, increasing co-operativeness and general respect for authority. So, all those forced after-school clubs and rigid bedtimes? They've really contributed to our cognitive development and ability to control our current environment, as adults, it seems.

But although time management is a valuable skill, that doesn't mean you've somehow failed at life if it's not your forte. What's more, if you still find it hard to stick to routine and get your work completed on time, you can still implement some useful strategies for yourself if you'd like to become a deadline pro. These four, for example, might help, if that's how you roll:

Give Yourself Breathing Room

If you can't stick to a deadline, Harvey Mackay of recommends allowing yourself a "buffer zone," wherein you allow yourself space to mess up. He says, "As you schedule individual tasks, give yourself a cushion. Mark the due date a few days ahead of the actual deadline so you have time to deal with changes or last-minute emergencies." Genius.

Reward Yourself

When you do meet deadlines or to-do dates, it's important to mentally pat yourself on the back. Training your brain to recognize when you've done something well will likely encourage repeat behavior.

Break It Down

We've all been overwhelmed by a particularly big task, but breaking down a big job into smaller, more manageable tasks and working towards completion bit by bit is one way to make the job less daunting and increase your likelihood of meeting the scheduled time.

Find Out Your Best Working Hours

As Talented Ladies Club advises, work out your most productive hours. Not everyone works in the same way, so find out if you're a naturally early riser or an evening worker — then use the time your brain is most alert to complete work. Writes the career website, "If your energies are high in the morning, set your alarm to wake an hour or so before the rest of your family and get some precious work done while the house is quiet. Or if you’re more inspired in the evenings, maybe put aside a couple of nights a week to work on your plans, rather than watch TV."

In the grand scheme of things, being able to meet deadlines does matter; having that particular skill could help everywhere from your career to simply making your day-to-day life easier. But even if doing so doesn't come naturally to you, understanding where your habits come from can go a long way towards changing them, if that's something you're interested in doing. And hey, at least science is on your side, right?

Images; Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images; Giphy