Deadlines: the ultimate inspiration?

I’m one of those people who needs a deadline; without one, I’d never get anything finished.

As a Myers-Briggs practitioner, I know it’s a personality thing, typical of someone with a Perceiving preference. We like to keep things open for as long as we can, exploring options until the last possible minute when we pull everything together in a flurry of activity.

It can drive other people (those with a Judging preference) to distraction. Our failure to make detailed plans and stick to them can appear disorganised, and our tendency to leave things to the last minute slapdash. By contrast, we Perceiving Types are horrified by the rigidity of the plans and schedules that those with a Judging preference love, and their desire to reach early decisions and move on is surely an indication of a closed mind and a fear of uncertainty.

Not having clear deadlines has caused me many a challenge over the years. One organisation I worked for had a culture where deadlines were very much a moveable feast. I’d be given a date by which something absolutely had to be completed, only to find that having met this, my work would sit on someone’s desk for months waiting for a decision. Gradually, I came to view given deadlines with a degree of cynicism and became really quite demotivated, feeling as if nothing I did actually mattered very much.

Working now as a freelance, I’ve found there are deadlines and deadlines. Those for clients are fine – I agree a date by which I’ll deliver something and I’ll always meet it. If I don’t do that, my reputation will suffer and before I know it, I’ll be out of business.

The harder ones are those I set for myself. If I tell myself that I need to have a new e-book written by the end of the month, or the website updated by a certain date, there’s a greater likelihood of failure. The deadline you see has to be a real one; there’s no point in setting an arbitrary date as I know it can be moved without any major consequences.

Identifying consequences is therefore the key to cracking the deadline challenge. Instead of looking at things in isolation, I try to link them together to form a bigger picture. Writing the new e-book isn’t an end in itself, it’s part of a longer chain of events that need to be completed in order to achieve a bigger goal. And there’s something really important that cannot be done before the website’s been updated.

This requires a far more considered approach to deadline setting. It’s not just about randomly plucking a date from thin air; it’s about a deep understanding of what you’re trying to achieve and how it impacts on other things. It’s not just an administrative process, enabling you to prioritise and tick things off your to-do list; it requires checking the significance of the deadline and what missing it might mean.

As part of this, I find exploring the effect of moving a deadline forward or backward can be a really interesting exercise. Does giving extra time allow for a better overall outcome? Would shortening the timeframe bring any benefits, or would it unacceptably reduce quality?

Although my relationship with deadlines may at times be problematic, I need them to focus my mind and release creativity. I find it useful however to keep them in perspective. As author George R.R. Martin, creator of the Game of Thrones series said “if the novels are still being read in 50 years, no one is ever going to say: ‘What’s great about that sixth book is that he met his deadline!’ It will be about how the whole thing stands up.”