The Deadline Can Be Your Friend. Really!

In a moment of what had to be abject boredom, I did a little math based on how long I’ve been honored to write for the Delaware Wave and the Delaware Coast Press newspapers. Somewhat to my horror, I discovered that those years translate into approximately 1,664 deadlines! Twice a week. Every week.  Year in. Year out. It’s like a light at the end of the tunnel that never comes any closer. But without those inflexible benchmarks, I’m not sure I would have made it onto these pages every week.

Deadlines are a good thing. Not only do they ensure that you don’t encounter a big blank space with my name at the top, but the concept of a deadline suggests structure and purpose. These deadlines, along with my appointment book at the office (sort of like a week full of mini-deadlines) are clearly purpose-driven activities. And that sort of activity is the only kind that can sustain itself over time. Not just for me, but for anyone.

A deadline is sort of like having a GPS in your car, or a compass on a ship. It doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do, but it tells you where you are in relation to some concrete, verifiable standard. It helps you assess whether you’re in contact with reality in terms of what you’re expecting of yourself, or if you’re way off course.

Despite all these good things about deadlines, many people see them as irritating or unjustifiably stressful. During a session, a client might ask me, “How can I find an alternative to working under pressure?” I ask them to define pressure, and the answer is almost always, “deadlines.”

I think that the real issue arises when people have to set their own deadlines. When it’s no longer a schoolteacher, a college professor, a parent, a boss or a newspaper editor setting a deadline, then some people start to feel anxious. Some tell me that they even panic. When they experience that anxiety, they look to the open-ended nature of their goal and incorrectly conclude that they don’t have anyone to set a deadline for them. Well, they have to do it themselves! But then the mistake kicks in: “If I were independent, I wouldn’t need a deadline.” Not so. That’s when you need deadlines the most.

I have been self-employed most of my life. None of that could happen without deadlines, i.e., ongoing, objective measures to gauge one’s success. In addition to the printed word on this page, I maintain several daily online columns. I’m smiling as I type the word, “daily,” since that word implies, and in fact demands, an every-24-hour deadline. I could take some pressure off by doing it weekly or monthly; posting things whenever I felt like it. But then I wouldn’t produce nearly as much. And the responses to those mini-articles – both positive and negative – have been the inspiration for many of the articles you read here on this page. Setting and enforcing expectations of myself is the only thing standing between me and that blank page to which I refer.

There’s nothing wrong with deadlines that are externally imposed, and in the publishing world those deadlines are part of the nature of reality, i.e., printing presses, truck schedules and the needs of advertisers. And you can take it even further into day-to-day life: You have to make time to eat, sleep, get ready for work and take care of your health – important day-to-day deadlines – if you’re going to function and thrive. Another example is a college or graduate student; he or she is well-acquainted with deadlines. And each one successfully met brings them closer to their goal.

Deadlines help us prosper and grow. They’re objective measurements for ascertaining and monitoring our progress (or lack thereof). Far from generating potential panic, they should be seen as solid stepping stones toward the fulfillment of whatever you want to achieve that will bring you happiness.

 

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