Self-Imposed Deadlines

I love deadlines, I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by

– Dilbert

I always got my work done in school. I’m not saying this as a bragging point, but that I didn’t realize that it was optional.

When it came to school deadlines, I always handed my work in on-time. There was varying degrees of quality of course, but I never pleaded an extension and I never handed in work early. Deadlines were hard, fast, immovable objects.

I was terrible at remembering them. There were many caffeine-fueled late nights because a deadline crept up on me. I would attempt to schedule everything in my agenda, but I always relied on the peer pressure of my friends to keep me on-track. I can easily say that I spent most of my education learning that there is a marked difference between:

  • writing something down,
  • remembering something, and
  • actually completing the task.

Those are tasks that I still struggle with. Which is why I find it funny that I’m not only in charge of setting deadlines at my work, I’m also in charge of updating them and making sure that they are completed.

Law firms work on a “bring-forward” (“BF”) system, a calendaring system meant to show upcoming deadlines that you can update and keep track of. The deadlines that I monitor aren’t just a daily or weekly, they span months and hundreds of clients. Dates and timelines become unwieldy when keeping track of as little as what needs to get done today, tomorrow, and next week.

I’m proud to say that (so far!!) we’ve never missed a deadline at work—though there were a couple times we came close. When deadlines become your job, you quickly learn that you need to love them. You need to get a little obsessive. Not only do we use a firm calendaring software but I also create weekly deadline charts and a daily list. There are times when I wake up in the middle night remembering a task that didn’t update.

For my work life, I’ve pretty much mastered the art of completing deadlines. When it comes to extracurriculars like my writing, not so much. I’ve tried different types of goal setting: time-based, word counts, dailies. The trouble is sticking with what works. I am the most consistent and the most efficient when working with some sort of peer pressure. This is why NaNo and other monthly challenges work best, as there is an element of public shaming if you don’t complete your daily goal. That’s not to say people are trolling your profile and watching your updates but having your progress graphed online creates a form of accountability.

Writing programs like Scrivener have session goals that can be set up so you can track your progress, but without outside encouragement, and no penalty in opening the program but leaving the screen blank, I don’t work as hard nor as well. I can set all the deadlines I like, but if I’m not doing the work then they’re useless.

I’m lucky to have friends that are interested in writing and reading. The casual “how’s that book coming along” burns a fire under me more than any online chart could. I want to reach my goals so that I have something my friends can read and experience. Having editors and readers affects my schedule, knowing that they are waiting for the next draft forces me to become a little more obsessive about completing writing deadlines. What I’ve found most important is something that should have been apparent from the start. Not everything needs to be a big deadline. It doesn’t always have to be writing a chapter, sometimes the deadline can be as small as re-reading you work or doing a grammar check. What’s critical is staying engaged with your work. The moment you let one deadline slip by, the more likely you are to let more get by you.

It doesn’t make how many calendar events I create, how many times I tell myself to use my spreadsheet, it’s still difficult to finish my goals. The key to self-imposed deadlines is to find the best way to make yourself accountable. There’s no showing your work—at least not until it’s several drafts in—or proving word counts. It’s up to you and whether you keep your word. Using my social circle as a watchdog makes it easier to follow through with self-imposed deadlines and tasks. Sticking to deadlines is one of the most important skills you can develop. Find what makes you to stick to self-imposed deadlines. I want to say something trite like follow-through produces character, but I think it’s simpler than that. Follow-through just produces.