Deadlines or Lifelines?

How do you feel about deadlines?  I mean, how do you really feel when you have a deadline?  Are you delighted?  Do you want to jump for joy and celebrate?  Or is your first reaction one of dread?  Do you resist the deadline and start thinking of all the reasons that you can’t possibly meet that deadline?  If you are like most people, you are more inclined toward the latter.

What causes us to dig in our heels when a deadline is looming near?  I think it triggers the natural response to rebel against authority that we experience as teens.  Think back to when you were a teenager.  How did you respond to deadlines, especially those regarding homework assignments?  Were you excited to hear you had 3 weeks to complete a big project or paper?  Or were you dreading it, trying to think of all of the obstacles like “How will I have time to do things with my friends?” or “I can’t possibly get it done because I have other classes, homework and a job. I just don’t have time to do this?”  Yet, somehow, even with all of your objections, I’m guessing you usually found a way to get it done by the deadline.  So how did you do it?  How do you do it today, as an adult?

I operate under the theory that “Deadlines are lifelines” or “Deadlines are our friends.”  I didn’t always believe this theory and there are times when I still resist the “dreaded deadline.”  But experience has taught me that I am more likely to accomplish a goal when I have a deadline.  Think about this:  what if your boss said, “Hey, I have an important project I need you to do for me.  There’s no big rush so take your time and do it well.  We don’t have a deadline so don’t stress about it.  Just get it to me when you can.”  (Like this would really happen, but just humor me.)  How many of you would rush to work on this project?  He/she told you it was important, but what do you think about it?  “How important can it be if there is no deadline?”  Am I right?  Now what if we take the same scenario but include “I need it before next Tuesday”?  How do you feel about it now?  Do you feel a sense of urgency?  Are you more inclined to get to work on it?

There is something about the sense of urgency that kicks us into higher gear.  Left to our own devices, we will find other things to occupy our time, even if we are told it is “important.”  Think about a birthday or holiday such as Christmas.  What if you had no date to consider as the “deadline,” would you buy gifts or cards to make it before the deadline or would it be easy to figure, “Oh, well.  I’ll get around to it sometime.”? 

I think most of us are familiar with the saying “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”  To accomplish a goal, we are much more likely to take the steps necessary when we put it in writing and include deadlines for each step along the way with the big deadline at the end.  I recently had my book writing accountability partner challenge me to create a deadline for launching my book.  My first thought was “I can’t set a deadline!  I haven’t written enough, yet.  I don’t even know what all I need to do to have everything in place before I launch it.”  You can see that I was ready to dig in my heels and justify, blame and make excuses in an effort to resist the “dreaded deadline.”  Thankfully, I know this about myself and once I voiced my thoughts, I followed up with “Help me to figure out a timeline for all the steps I need to take so I can come up with a launch date.”  Once I became open to the idea and saw the necessity in doing it, my mindset became one of exploring solutions vs. making excuses.  We mapped it out, I contacted 2 editors and have a hopeful launch date!  I am so excited to be taking the necessary steps to reach this long-term goal I have had for years!  Would I be able to make it by the launch date if left to my own devices and the idea that “it is important, but I don’t need a launch date, yet. I’ll just keep working on it” or would I continue to drag it out over months and years?  My guess is that it would go on.

Something in us shifts when we make something a priority by putting a deadline on it.  “Beginning with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a key to success.  He says, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.  It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”  It is easy to be busy, but are we spending our time in activities that help to move us closer to our goals?

I had a roommate in college who set a weight loss goal for herself.  She posted sticky notes all over the kitchen and house with her goal weight.  By making it visible, she kept the goal at the forefront of her mind and achieved it faster than she would have if she had just said her goal was “to lose some weight.”  I agreed to write monthly blogs/articles for the ATD Newsletter which means that I have a deadline every month.  If I didn’t have the deadline, I may only write 2-3 articles a year instead of 12.

Take a look at your goal list.  Are they really goals or are they just dreams without deadlines?  How can you stop digging in your heels, holding yourself back and move forward toward achieving a goal or two that have been on your list for a while?  I challenge you to choose a goal and set a deadline.  Then find an accountability partner or coach to hold you to it.  Map out the steps and follow through.  It works like magic!  Instead of a “deadline”, it becomes a “lifeline” leading you to a more fulfilling life.

Recharging Batteries

Last night at bedtime, as I was preparing all of my stuff to take to work in the morning, I couldn’t find my van keys.  I cleaned out my purse, checked jacket pockets, looked in all of the usual places and still couldn’t find them.  I decided, as a last resort, to go into the garage and check my vehicle.  Lo and behold, there they were, in the ignition!  I had unloaded the van after shopping on Saturday, then realized I needed to write down my mileage so I put the keys back in and turned them enough to see the mileage.  Unfortunately, I got sidetracked and my van is old so it doesn’t make all of the usual warning noises to let you know when you have left keys in the ignition.  I spent the weekend cleaning and canning apple butter, so I had no need to go out to the vehicle, until last night when I couldn’t find my keys. 

You know what happened.  The battery was run down to nothing and there was no chance of starting it.  My husband was already in bed, but got up and checked it out.  He hooked up a battery charger and found there was almost no charge left in the battery.  He didn’t want to leave it hooked up overnight with no supervision so we unplugged it and decided to get up early to plug it back in and hope that there would be enough time to charge it before work or I would have to take him to work and keep his vehicle.  Thankfully, he was able to give it enough juice to start it and I was able to take it to work and he was able to take his vehicle.  But it was scary and anxiety-producing until we knew we could get it running.

Has this ever happened to you?  Have you emptied your internal battery to the point of having no juice left?  Have you tried starting yourself on an empty battery?  Did you wonder why you couldn’t get it going?  Just as I inadvertently drained my van battery, we can drain ourselves and not realize it until it is too late and we don’t have any charge left.  We had to plug in a battery charger and hook it up to the van battery to give it enough juice to get it started.  What do you have to do to recharge your batteries?

We just returned from a 10 day vacation to a cabin in Minnesota with friends, the Great Lakes, Canada, Niagara Falls and a few other sites along the way.  Although I was sick most of the vacation, it was wonderful to get out, see some new scenery, touch base with friends, enjoy nature and spend time with my family.  I came back feeling better and ready to go back to work.  I have more energy, gained a new perspective, got some rest, had some new experiences and am re-charged!  Before vacation, my batteries were running low which is why I got sick.  I had been busy with work, workshops, a family reunion, a wedding, several funerals and trying to catch up on home projects and was not taking time to take good care of myself.  Too many hours of work, stretching well into the night combined with early mornings and non-stop activity during the day were draining the juice from my batteries without my realizing it, just as the key left in the ignition had drained the juice from my van battery.  I’m sure that we both looked okay on the outside, but the inner workings were not keeping up with appearances.  Upon closer inspection, others may have realized that we were both having our energy slowly drained and we needed to stop the energy drains and get plugged into a power source that could replenish us!

What is draining your energy?  How can you stop the energy drains?  What energy source can you plug into to recharge?  I encourage you to take some well-deserved time to charge your batteries.  If you aren’t sure what charges you up, take some time to consider when you feel relaxed, calm, excited, happy, content, creative, focused or loving.  Are there activities that you don’t have time for because you are caught up in the busy-ness of life?  What is an activity that you love to do but haven’t done for a while?  Schedule time to do it!  Is there a person that you love spending time with that you haven’t spoken to or haven’t seen recently?  Contact that person and schedule time to talk or get together!  Is there an activity that you have wanted to try but haven’t gathered the information it would take to do it?  Gather the information and try something new!  Is there something that relaxes or calms you but you rarely take the time to do it because “it’s not a good time” or “I will get back to that someday”?  Why wait any longer?  Take time for yourself!  When you do these things, you are putting yourself on the battery charger before you are depleted and can’t start.  Don’t try to run your life on a dead battery.  Take time to re-charge your batteries and bring energy back into your life!

Opportunity: Taken or Missed?

“When opportunity knocks, open the door.”

How many times has opportunity knocked on your door and you didn’t answer?  Opportunities arise every day.  We just need to be aware of them and make the decision to take them or live with the consequences of missing them.

We can all look back at points in our lives when we had opportunities to try something new, to have a unique experience, to learn or to grow.  Whenever I miss an opportunity, I feel disappointed.  I wonder how the opportunity, if taken, would have impacted my life or given a result I was seeking.  I also ponder about opportunities I have taken, and I wonder how my life would have been impacted if I hadn’t seized those opportunities. 

One of the first opportunities I had was choosing which scholarships to accept and which college to attend.  I was offered a number of scholarships to various colleges and it came down to accepting a Regents Scholarship to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln or accepting a 4 year President’s Scholarship to Kearney State College.  Both were excellent opportunities, but I couldn’t choose both.  I took the opportunity that felt right to me and I have no regrets.

Another big opportunity came when I was offered my first job out of college.  I had the opportunity to teach in California without ever having seen the school.  I took the opportunity which led to much personal and professional growth.  If I hadn’t taken the opportunity, I may have always wondered what would have happened if I had.

I am sure I have missed opportunities in my life, but I try to be aware of the ones that come my way that offer me personal or professional growth.  I have a recent example of someone I know who missed a big opportunity to sell a commercial property in a small town.  He had two interested buyers, but he didn’t act on the interest while it was hot and he missed the opportunity to sell it.  It may be years before he has another opportunity.

Another example is all of the job opportunities available in Lincoln right now.  I see “help wanted” signs posted in many stores and restaurants.  I know of a number of people who talk about being interested in finding a job, but when it comes down to applying for these job openings, they have many excuses as to why they aren’t getting it done.  Some complain that they haven’t had the time to apply, but they have the time to be on Facebook, play video games and hang out with friends.  Some simply don’t want to do the work that is available saying things like “I don’t want to work in a restaurant.”  It’s a shame they are missing out on excellent opportunities to be employed, earn money, reduce financial stress, have the opportunity for benefits, meet new people, learn new skills, etc.  There is a formula to determine the missed financial opportunity:  Take the hourly wage (W) and multiply by the number of hours (H) per day they could be working and multiply that number by every day (D) that passes that they are not working and that equals the dollar amount of that missed opportunity (MO).  (W x H x D = $MO)  For example, if they could be earning minimum wage this is how it might look:  $9 per hour x 8 hours per day x 40 days without work = $2880 of missed opportunity. 

What are the opportunities you have every day that are available to you in one of these areas:  personal, financial, spiritual, professional, health or relationships?  Are you taking or missing the opportunities that come knocking on your door?  Are you missing out on financial opportunities because you aren’t willing to take a job that isn’t your dream job because you want to hold out for the one that pays more and seems more ideal?  Have you considered the financial hit you are taking with each day that you don’t take the less than perfect job?  What about earning money while you continue to search for the ideal job? 

Are you missing out on an opportunity to create, grow or improve a relationship in your life?  What about time for personal growth?  Are you missing an opportunity to learn something new, try something you have never tried or do something creative?  Is there an opportunity to improve your health that you haven’t taken?  Every day is full of opportunities!!  “When opportunity knocks, open the door!”