Love them or hate them but deadlines really are one of the best tools at your disposal.
Although I definitely wouldn’t have agreed with this statement when I was a teenager.
Throughout secondary school I was alwaysa lastminute.com person when it came to revision and getting my work handed in.
I would get it done, but always felt if I had that bit of extra time I could have done it better.
‘Next time I won’t leave it really late to start’ I would tell myself.
Next time I just did the exact same thing.
It was also ironic that as soon as I had homework due in the next day that suddenly anything else that needed to get done seemed a lot more interesting and urgent, like tidying my room, sorting my CD’s into the right cases, sorting out my clothes, moving my posters about on the walls, re-arranging the furniture.
It was only when I was at university that I started to get the hang of deadlines, and that was because one of my favourite things to do in the world (sleeping) was constantly sacrificied because of my ‘leave it to the last minute’ approach.
In my first couple of years studying deadlines showed me that even on no sleep I was able to pull an all-nighter at university with my brain really coming through when I needed it, to pretty much start and finish an essay due in the next day. Although an exception to this was one night was when I had all my referencing still left to do, it was 3am and I was struggling. I was half falling asleep at my desk and really needed caffeine to keep me up, otherwise it was becoming a very big possibility that I would miss the deadline completely and hand it in late. Nobody in my flat had any coffee so in desperation I resorted to a glass of water mixed with six spoons of sugar, desperate times called for desperate measures! My thinking was that it would have the desired effect of me then being able to stay awake and concentrate long enough to finish my work, but this didn’t exactly happen according to plan. I mean, yep I was awake, but I got absolutely no work done, as the sugar just sent me right to the other end of the spectrum to where I felt like I was slightly drunk. I then seemed to be a great idea to call my friend and spent the next forty five minutes chatting crap and laughing about nothing, then when I crashed, I crashed hard. I was like a child who overdoses on sugary sweets at a party and then just passes out right in the middle of the room when they’ve had enough.
I somehow managed to get the essay submitted but I promised I would never do that to myself again.
My lesson of the day was don’t put six large spoons of sugar in a glass of water, stir and neck it. Don’t do that kids. It wasn’t one of my brightest ideas.
The actual lesson I learnt was that I should have just started writing it a week earlier to have avoided all that. Simples.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say I had the same pattern when revising for exams too.
In second year I started revising for end of year exams two days before I was due to sit them, and when I had three on consecutive days after each other I knew I’d have to call for re-inforcements – chocolate and red bull, my staple revision diet. I remember being on the home straight with only my final exam to go, sat there in the gymnasium with my three chocolate bars and two cans of red bull on the table if I needed them and trying to function and answer a three hour essay question on next to no sleep. I chomped down on two chocolate bars and then read the question, but it didn’t go in. I had to read it three times before I could absorb what was being asked of me and start to try and formulate my answer to it in my head.
My head was feeling cloudy.
Then it felt like the table was tipping to the right.
I held on, like I was on a ship out on rough seas.
I panicked slightly…
Had I pushed myself too hard this time? Had I left it all too late that my brain just couldn’t take me over the finish line? Had I left it too close to the deadline that I was going to pay for it this time?
Yes and no.
My brain did manage to pull it out the bag for me, but I shouldnt be feeling like I’m at sea to have realised that.
It took me a few years of practise to improve how I scheduled my work but I have got much better with deadlines over time. But even up to when I was completing my Masters a few years ago and studying a subject that really interested me and that I wanted to learn about, (and although I didnt leave anything until the last minute and was much better at planning ahead and starting on work early) I was still fighting against myself. If I was left in that library with all of those books and been given free rein to read, I would have been in there for weeks on end without interruption and never wanting to leave. However, as soon as a deadline for an essay was set, suddenly my mindset would shift, and reading felt like a chore. Even though I was still enjoying the subjects, it just wasn’t the same. It felt like I was now having the reading imposed on me by someone else rather than it being my choice.
It’s this logic that I get frustrated with, but it is where my working style comes from, and it’s been an embedded concept I’ve had since school which has taken me a long time to work out how best I can now use deadlines to my advantage.
So I now choose to reframe them.
What you are about to read next seems really obvious, because it is, but when you are battling the inner child within you sometimes that requires you having a stern word with yourself and being…well….really obvious.
I remind myself that teachers at secondary school arent setting the deadlines anymore, I am.
I’m in control, and I’m not setting them for myself to bring on a feeling of impending doom to punish me.
They help me get shit done.
The type of shit I actually really do want to do, that I might not have neccessarily done at all in the first place, as it would have stayed in the idea stage and never come to fruition, or maybe I would have done it, but it will have taken me four years of only ‘doing it when I feel like it’ rather than four months under a more routine structure that I set up for yourself.
I also know that ‘doing it when I feel like it’ = ‘I will do it tomorrow’
(Please read one of my recent blog posts I’ll stop saying I will do it tomorrow, tomorrow. about how a lot of the time tomorrow never seems to be the day you get it done either).
So my latest deadline that I set myself was a writing challenge. In my above mentioned post blog post I set myself a target to write 50,000 words in 23 days for NaNoWriMo.
Here is how it went:
The final end result…. I did it!!!
As you can see some days went much better than others, and one week I was near enough 5,000 words behind where I was supposed to be, but I kept at it.
Some daily lessons I learnt from those 23 days:
- I love being in competion, even with myself, so daily targets and challenges that were bite-size and manageable gave me a feel good factor at the end of everyday when I achieved it.
- The four days when I didnt manage to do any writing I started to get angry at myself for getting behind, but re-planned how I was going to make up those words over the remaining days. A younger me would have probably given up completely if I got that far behind.
- Even on days when I didn’t feel like doing anything I still made myself write something, as I knew the ‘tomorrow me’ would thank me for it.
- I managed to keep myself on track to where I didn’t end up with needing to write 15,000 words over the last two days – this is the biggest sign of me acknowledging the areas I struggled with regarding deadlines and devising my own version of how best to structure my work, which meant I got to relax last night and watch a film at 7pm, instead of reaching for the sugar jar with a spoon at 4am.
Due to setting my own deadlines I was able to achieve such a huge amount in November that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Deadlines, as long as you do the one thing that is required of you (which is stick to to them) are your catalyst to help prove to yourself what you are capable of doing, especially when it comes to turning those life-long ideas into a reality.
There is of course a part of me that is still such a lastminute.com person if I allow myself to be, as I would always love to watch ‘just one more’ episode of Game of Thrones before I start working, and so its something I have to work on every day. But now with so many built up experiences I don’t want that ‘panic monster’ feeling, it’s tiring. We all thrive off of a bit of stress, and some great pieces of work and ideas I’ve had have come from ‘the final hour’ rush to get it done, but I know if I planned my time and stuck to it I could do even better. I could produce even better work without the huge amounts stress, lack of sleep, lack of being able to check over my work properly, and inability to be able to expand on ideas which pop into my head when it’s that last minute.
It’s been a long road to get here and as you can see I’m still challenging myself everyday, but I feel like I have now turned deadlines into my strength rather than looking at it as my arch nemesis to avoid.
My advice to you?
- Set an achievable deadline, that even if you have a few bad days you know you will complete it
- Make mini-deadlines within the larger one to avoid everything being left to the last minute and making it more manageable in smaller pieces as you go along.
- If you go off track, re-structure you plan, and stick to the new one. Try to avoid using this as your fall back everytime though.
- Stick to it and keep practising.
- Stick to it and get it done.
- Stick to it and give yourself pre-arranged little rewards for reaching the mini deadlines and the final one.
- Feel good about yourself when you get it done, and really acknowledge what you have achieved! Also think about ways you can improve for the next time.
- Even if you don’t hit your deadline target – really acknowledge what you have done and achieved and think about ways you can improve for the next deadline you set!
- Eat ice-cream (of course)
- Rinse & repeat
Thanks for reading,