Deadlines Are Tools

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After an eventful few months, I was trying to keep up on all of my various projects. It was starting to get stressful – one book being published, the next worldbook in progress, and a novel in the works. How could this be stressful, I wondered? I had plans and outlines, and well-thought out deadlines, shouldn’t that make life easier?

Of course the more I examined, the more I realized a few things:

  1. I had my deadlines disrupted by assorted life events and those in the lives of friends and families.
  2. I had reassessed these deadlines during this time and adjusted them, but not given thought to my situation.
  3. Some of the projects with deadlines were ones that were new or experimental. An example would be my second novel – with one under my belt, I’m still perfecting my methods.

After having a discussion with some fellow writers, one suggested taking a break from some projects – just a few days. The more we discussed it, the more I came to a conclusion they were right, but also they’d revealed something else.

I’d used deadlines inappropriately.

I’d chosen deadlines to keep up on my projects, and to keep things under control. They were “realistic” in the way they were estimated using what knowledge I had – they were unrealistic for a trying time and with several experimental projects. This got me thinking about how we use deadlines inappropriately.

We often treat deadlines as unavoidable, sandrosanct, indeed required. Its probably the result of school, of previous industrial cultures, and of a busy time. But having deadlines we often jump to them without asking if they make sense or are even a good idea.

But what good is a deadline? A deadline is a tool- it should help you.

  • A deadline can help you allocate resources, deciding what to do in order to meet a deadline.
  • A deadline can help you coordinate, giving something to someone in time for them to take other action.
  • A deadline can result from trying to figure when you can get something done (and let’s you evaluate if you were right).
  • A deadline can help you prioritize.
  • A deadline can challenge yourself.

Deadlines are useful – but the thing is they’re just a tool. But its not a tool you have to use all the time. Maybe you, like me, are giving yourself deadlines you simply don’t need.

Maybe a project of yours doesnt need a deadline – perhaps its new so all you can do is your best.

Maybe a project of yours is play. It doesn’t matter when its done as long as there’s progress.

You get the idea.

So take a lesson from my experience. Evaluate your deadlines and see if they’re doing any good. There’s a good chance that you’re not using them for the right reasons or using them in a way that helps you.

It’s OK to give up on deadlines sometime, as I found.

Steven Savage