My background in journalism prepared me to work well under pressure. It was good training for a mom whose life is filled with deadlines imposed by clients, teachers, coaches and tiny little “bosses” who need football uniforms washed 20 minutes before practice. Deadlines seem to rule my life, but that’s the way I like it. In fact, I think I’m so used to working under time constraints that I’m not sure what would happen if I didn’t have that cutoff date. (I actually know exactly what would happen: absolutely nothing.)
I set deadlines for everything from cleaning out closets to working on projects in the office. I have a deadline for finishing my Christmas shopping and a deadline for making calls at work. I intentionally sign up for half-marathons twice a year to give myself a goal and schedule for my workout routine. I’m so addicted to deadlines that I even have a specific time each week dedicated to painting my nails. I’m not kidding.
So why do I love life under pressure? To be honest, the deadline actually lifts the pressure for me. I find that when I have something weighing on my mind (like the fact that I really need to clean the closet or update my website), it just drains my energy until I take action. And the only way I know how to take action is through deadlines (even if it’s a moving target). That’s the greatest benefit of deadlines: they force me to take action. Consistent action. And what happens when we take action? We get results. We get to finish something we start. We get to experience the “Gift of Completion” and cross something off the perpetual list of things to do. Doesn’t that feel fabulous?
Setting a deadline is easy for linear-thinkers like me – we like to be able to see, step by step, what we should do each day or week in order to reach our goals. We’re motivated by that feeling we get when we cross something off the list. So we set lots of small incremental deadlines and we write them in our calendars to make sure they happen. (We’re the type of gals who fell in love with our Franklin Planner and had a really difficult time going digital because we were afraid it would mess up our system!)
But what if you’re a creative person? One of those people who rolls her eyes at the word “deadline” and gets a panic attack at the thought of having to deliver on a specific date. How can you use deadlines to increase your productivity without destroying your free spirit? Here’s how to fall in love with a deadline-driven schedule (even if you can’t stand the thought of it):
- Start Small: Don’t pick the biggest project on your list to begin with. How about something simple like making calls to a potential client, customer or referral source. Just set a timer for 30 minutes and tell yourself that you will do nothing else but that one task until the buzzer goes off. No Facebook, no laundry, no day dreaming…just getting down to business. It’s only 30 minutes – you can handle that, right? The thing that happens when we set the timer is that we give ourselves permission to focus. Permission to avoid distractions and interruptions. And we give ourselves permission to STOP when the buzzer goes off. So the “deadline” actually releases you from the stress of having to keep going and do more. You can relax because you completed what you set out to do!
- Break it Down: For larger projects, break the deadlines down for each task in the process. Let’s say you need to write an article for a local magazine or online blog that is seeking contributions. Pencil in 30 minutes one day to brainstorm on the topic. Schedule a couple hours another day to write the article. Set aside a half hour the following day to review it and edit it. And carve out 30 minutes for submitting the article with a thoughtful note on your “deadline” day. That way, each time you reach another deadline, you get to cross something off your list – experiencing that “Gift of Completion” and moving one step closer to the final goal.
- Share Your Secret: If there is something important on your to-do list, don’t keep it to yourself. Let a friend or colleague know what you’re working on so you can receive their support and accountability. What happens when we tell someone we’re going to write a book or run a marathon? It becomes a reality. We’re more likely to make it happen because we committed to it someplace other than our own heart. You can even take it a step further and tell your friend to check in on your progress and help keep you on track.
- Protect Your Time: Once you schedule time in your calendar to work on a project, then treat that time as you would an appointment with anyone else. This is where the discipline comes in – you have to develop the skill of saying “No” to things so you can create the time and space you need to accomplish your goals. If you need help with this, here are Twenty Things You Can Say “No” to Now!
- Go With the Flow: This is the part that’s easy for the creative free spirits of the world. As much as it helps to set deadlines to stay on track, it is also important to recognize that a fluid schedule is required (and preferred!) for the mompreneur! So don’t become frustrated if you find yourself pushing back deadlines. But do take the time to reexamine those deadlines and ask yourself why you’re not completing the tasks. Is it possible that you need to choose a new goal? Do you need to delegate? Or learn What to do When Life Gets in the Way?
Are you addicted to deadlines? Or violently opposed to them? I’d love to hear how you manage the important tasks on your schedule — deadlines or not – and accomplish your goals! Share your tips and tricks here!