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.