In trying to motivate ourselves, we constantly undervalue deadlines.
When it comes to working with clients, we see it as a necessary evil. But when it comes to our own work and projects, we tend to think of it as a jail sentence.
True, deadlines might be what some call “negative motivation.” Yet, they move us to action and inspire innovation.
Special effects designer Adam Savage said:
Deadlines refine the mind. They remove variables like exotic materials and processes that take too long. The closer the deadline, the more likely you’ll start thinking way outside the box.
How Deadlines Have Benefited Me
A few years ago, I released my second book, The Essential Guide to Music Entrepreneurship.
Then, I decided I wanted to create a three-tier offer based on the book. So, I developed bonus content and started putting together what I called Pro Packs.
I wanted the offer to have some urgency, so I put a hard deadline on it. The sales page had a countdown timer too.
But this deadline wasn’t just for my prospects and buyers. It was also for me.
This deadline quickly moved me to action because it meant I would need to create the bonus content, set up the sales page and offers, and promote it in the timeframe I’d set for myself. After that date, the offer was going to go away. So, I needed to act with urgency.
This constraint helped me come up with a lot of great marketing ideas.
Screenwriter Martin Villeneuve said:
Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity.
In total, there weren’t many takers for the most expensive tier in my offer. But because of these efforts, my book ended up having one of its best months.
Why Are Deadlines Effective?
Effectiviology says “deadlines can help reduce the likelihood that you will procrastinate both when they are self-imposed as well as when they are external.”
Basically, deadlines work just as well for personal projects and product creation as they do for client work or work in general.
Further, deadlines are effective because:
- They can make your goals feel more concrete. When you don’t have deadlines, you don’t have to show up or do something by a specific date. But if you know you’re going to be running a marathon next month, you’ll spend time preparing because you must.
- They can help you throw your hat over the fence. Which means to make a commitment in advance of the action or result. You’ll be less likely to procrastinate, because now you’ve got to chase that hat down.
- They can inspire structure. As seen in the personal example I shared earlier, deadlines can inspire innovation and action. When you don’t have deadlines, your next actions can be murky and uncertain. Basically, without a deadline, you let yourself off the hook and allow yourself to be wishy-washy in its completion.
Are Deadlines Always Beneficial?
No, not always.
What matters most is that you use them to your advantage. Not try to create a reality distortion field a la Steve Jobs (unless you want to work yourself to the bone…).
Research has already shown that deadlines don’t always work. And to be honest, no one likes to live in deadline hell. You can set too many deadlines.
So, how can we avoid these pitfalls?
Herbert Lui’s article on The Freelance Creative offers some clues. These are my main takeaways:
- Set aside adequate time to work on the deadline. Ensure that you aren’t scrambling to meet a deadline at the last minute. Allocate time to the project in your schedule. And if necessary, set aside the entire week leading up to the deadline just to work on it.
- Set tighter deadlines. It’s altogether too easy to let yourself off the hook, work extra buffer time into your deadline, and make it too easy on yourself so there’s no need to innovate. Moving up deadlines can force inspired action.
- Minimize unrealistic deadlines. Finishing too soon can end up creating a problem, especially for freelancers. Because if you meet one unrealistic deadline, you will often be rewarded with another unrealistic deadline. You can only pull so many all-nighters, so this is unsustainable. Know when to say “uncle.” Too much can be too much.
- Experiment and have fun. You can set deadlines just for fun. See how it feels to set deadlines. Notice how it sharpens your thinking and how it has a way of clarifying your purpose and eliminating distractions.
My mentors often said:
Commitment is freedom.
This tends to fly in the face of the general cultural norm that says options are freedom. But it has been shown, scientifically, that an increase in choices decreases our happiness.
As human beings, we are much happier when we’ve committed to our partners, friends, businesses, projects, and so forth.
In terms of productivity, deadlines help us focus. They eliminate choices by default, including those that have a tendency to distract us in our daily lives.
What has your experience with deadlines been like?
Do you have too many deadlines? Do you live in deadline hell?
Or do you often let yourself off the hook and work as the spirit moves you?
Let me know in the comments.
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