DEADLINE is a word that probably makes the grim reaper go a little fond and fuzzy, but to us, it’s like MORTGAGE, HATCHET or PUSTULE – all in all a rather poor way to denote what really is just the other side of a boundary or delineated period of time.
In terms of word origins, ‘deadline’ derives from a physical line in the US prison camps during civil war. This line was a few feet from the inside of the prison walls and prisoners were strictly forbidden to cross it. The purpose of the ‘deadline’ was to prevent anyone from even thinking about attempting to scale the walls, and, cheerily enough, anyone caught crossing it so would be shot on sight. Today, natural language evolution has seen the term become part of our day-to-day work vocabulary, adding a rather unnecessarily sinister twist to ordinary work tasks.
“…deadlines don’t exist in a world outside of significant or challenging situations, so we don’t know what they do in their spare time. Chances are they dance the hula and drink Limoncello…”
Let’s start by reassuring ourselves that, other than in unusually severe circumstances, most of us will not be shot if we miss our deadlines. Contrary to their unfortunate appellation, deadlines are anything but dead – they are lifelines – stimulating, motivating processes that define our work life. Deadlines are your friends, and challenge you positively. Given that deadlines don’t exist in a world outside of significant or challenging situations, we don’t know what they do in their spare time. Chances are they dance the hula and drink Limoncello, so let’s not make assumptions and judge them unfairly.
There are two types of deadline.
Deadlines you set yourself
The deadlines we set for ourselves are particularly hard, due to the human inclination for self-sabotage, denial and procrastination. If you’re setting your own deadlines, do yourself a favour and make sure they’re achievable. No matter what deadlines you’re setting yourself, don’t forget to treat yourself if you succeed. Not only do you deserve it (well done you) – you’re also more likely to succeed next time.
Deadlines others set for you
Deadlines that others set are usually treated with more seriousness and are easier to achieve because they exist in a place that is owned by authority or importance. These types of deadline have a higher success rate but also carry an added weight which can lead to stress or anxiety. The trick is to make any type of deadline your friend.
Why deadlines make great friends
Deadlines give us a powerful tool – they deliver a strong and purposeful force that allows us to prioritise the task at hand. Imagine your ‘task’ as your session at the gym and your ‘deadline’ as the energy drink that gives you the drive to forge on ahead.
Not only do deadlines help us achieve, they enable us to push less important tasks into the background for the duration of the project and sometimes beyond. As they approach like slow moving trains, it’s important not to succumb to pressure, but instead rise to the challenge. “So idealistic!” you may cry – and granted, you may need to incorporate new levels of flexibility into your plan or even stop to ask yourself questions such as “what can wait till later?” or “what can I delegate in order to achieve this?”
Both long and short deadlines help you refine your working process into something definable and organised. They force you to push out the dead wood. Short deadlines are particularly valuable for this – not only do they force us to usefully delegate, but they are easier to reach as we are less likely to succumb to outside distractions which can hinder progress.
Let’s accept that some deadlines are tougher than others and that certain personality types are prone to paralysis in the face of challenging time restrictions. If this is you, this handy little 3 point ‘mind, body, soul’ checklist can help you out of the quicksand and onto solid ground.
MIND: Give your paralysis a name
Paralysed by a looming deadline? First, define what is giving you The Fear. Is it a fear of messing it up? Define your fear, even if you’re not 100% sure you’ve defined it right. Just accept it’s there and give it a name.
BODY: Have a quick-fix MOT
It’s time for a basic MOT. Are you sleeping properly? Are you eating properly? Are you drinking enough water? When NO is the answer to any of these, make positive change. These are fundamental factors. Fuelling your body with the good stuff (literally brainfood) will help you produce the good stuff.
SOUL: Visualise the positive outcome
If you’re not feeling positive, visualisation can help. If you think visualisation is a bit ooky-ikey, that’s OK, but know that we do it all the time and give it other names like ‘anticipation’ or ‘managing expectations’. Think of a great meal in your favourite restaurant. That visualisation is what will make you go back again in order to make that pleasing mental picture a reality. Regular visualisation can be incorporated into meditation to help you relax and focus.
Deadlines bring order to chaos by telling your brain not to worry yourself with detail, and to get on and focus. Embrace new deadline friends as stepping stones rather than obstacles. Why? Because every time you embrace a deadline, you’re agreeing to achieve something, and that’s pretty much what it’s all about.