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 always a lastminute.com person when it came to revision and getting my work handed in...
I'd get it done, but I always felt that if I had that bit of extra time I could've done it better.
'Next time I won't leave it really late to start' I would tell myself.
Then next time would come along....and I'd do the exact same thing all over again.
It seemed that when I had homework due in the next day, suddenly anything else that needed to get done was a lot more interesting and urgent. This included sorting my CD's into the right cases, sorting out my clothes, moving my posters about on the walls, tidying my room and re-arranging the furniture.
It was only when I was at university that I started to get the hang of deadlines. The only reason for this was because one of my favourite things to do in the world (sleeping) was constantly sacrificied due to my 'leave it to the last minute' approach.
In my first couple of years studying at university deadlines showed me that even on no sleep I was able to pull an all-nighter. My brain would ramp up into high gear and I'd be able to start and finish an essay the day before it was due in.
Although an exception to this being one night when I had all my referencing for an essay still left to do. It was 3am and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I was falling asleep at my desk and really needed caffeine to keep me awake, otherwise I would definitely be missing the deadline. Nobody in my flat had any coffee, and so in desperation I resorted to a glass of water mixed with six spoons of sugar.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. In hindsight, it wasn't one of my finest moments.
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 go according to plan. Yes I was awake, but I got absolutely no work done. The sugar sent me right to the other end of the spectrum, and mixed with a lack of sleep, I felt like I was slightly drunk. Then when I crashed, I crashed hard. I resembled that of a child who overdoses on sugary sweets at a party and who 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.
The actual lesson I learnt (which was rather obvious) was that I should've just started writing it a week earlier to have avoided all of that stress.
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 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. I sat there in the gymnasium with my three chocolate bars and two cans of red bull on the table if I needed them. I was trying to function and answer a three hour essay question on next to no sleep and was already struggling. 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.
But my mind 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 I'd pushed myself too far.
It took me those few years of practise to improve how I scheduled my work, but I became much better with deadlines over time.
However, even after I'd become practised at not leaving my work to the last minute and was properly planning my work schedule ahead of time, I was still frustrated at myself. This surfaced during my Masters, studying around a subject I really wanted to learn about. If I was left in the university library with all of those books and given free rein to read at my leisure, I would've been in there for weeks on end without interruption, never wanting to leave. Yet 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 became frustrated with, but at least I had now acknowledged where my working style comes from. 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're about to read next seems really obvious, because it is. Yet when you're 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 to bring on a feeling of impending doom to punish myself.
They help me get stuff done. Stuff that I really do want to do. Without deadlines I might not have even attempted some of my ideas in the first place. Additionally, 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.
I also know that 'doing it when I feel like it' = 'I will do it tomorrow'. For more on this thought process have a read of I’ll Stop Saying I Will Do It Tomorrow, Tomorrow, which describes 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 about myself from those 23 days:
- I really 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 didn't 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've 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, and didn't end up needing to write 15,000 words over the final two days. This meant I got to relax last night and watch a film at 7pm, instead of heaping sugar onto a spoon to put in my water 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.
There will always be a part of me that is a lastminute.com person if I allow myself to be. I'd always love to watch just one more episode of Game of Thrones before I start working, and so it's something I have to work on every day. But with so many built up experiences of stress associated with deadlines, I just don't want the feeling the 'panic monster' brings when I've left things too late.
Why Am I Sharing This With You?
Deadlines are a fantastic catalyst to help prove to yourself what you're capable of doing, especially when it comes to turning those lifelong ideas into a reality.
Our stumbling block normally occurs in our association with the word 'deadline' and our subsequent action, or inaction, when one is put infront of us.
We can and do thrive off of stress. Some great pieces of work can come from 'the final hour' rush to complete something, but planning the time for more balance, and sticking to it would produce an even better standard. A structure where you're not having to struggle through with huge amounts of unnecessary stress, a severe lack of sleep, lack of being able to check over your work properly, and inability to be able to expand on ideas which pop into your head when it's all that last minute, will always provide some benefit.
The key is to look at how we can reframe the word with which many of us have built up a series of actions in response which often works to our detriment.
Questions To Ask Yourself To Help Improve Your Relationship With Deadlines
*Have a paper and pen or your phone / tablet / laptop handy to write down your answers
- When you think of the word 'deadline' what others words come to mind?
- What causes you to think of these words?
- Close your eyes for a few seconds and visualise yourself working to a deadline - What do you see? What are you thinking? What are you feeling?
- What is the root cause here of why you don't stick to a plan of work around a deadline?
- What else is this issue about?
- How could you reframe this word so that you're visualising it in a positive manner?
- Close your eyes for a few seconds and focusing on this new visualisation - What do you see? What are you thinking? What are you feeling?
- What words now come into your mind when you think of the word 'deadline'?
- What are the first couple of steps you can take to help your mind to continue to look at deadlines through this new reframed view?
- How will you go about doing that?
By reflecting on these questions you can start to look at how you can turn your working toward a deadline into a strength rather than looking at it as an arch nemesis to avoid.
- Set an achievable deadline, that even if you have a few bad days you know you'll complete it.
- Make mini-deadlines within the larger one to avoid. This will help in avoiding 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.
- Give yourself pre-arranged little rewards for reaching the mini-deadlines and the final overall one.
- Feel good about yourself when you get it done, and take stock what you've achieved! Ask yourself: what can you do to improve even more for the next deadline?
- Even if you don't hit your deadline target - take stock of what you've done and what you did achieve. Ask yourself: what can you do to improve even more for the next deadline?
*If you would like information on the Business & Personal Coaching services that I offer and pricings, please do go to my Coaching Services page or email me via my Contact page.