Nothing has quite the same effect on our work process as a looming deadline. But does the idea fill you with fear, or inspire you to get something done?
I’m somewhere in the middle. Even at school, I would generally leave my homework until the last possible moment, but I never missed a deadline.
At work, deadlines often fill me with anxiety, usually if I’m involved in a back and forth with one or more people on a project. If I’m working on something myself, I’m much more confident about getting things done.
Deadlines for writers
When it comes to writing, I’ve discovered that imposing a deadline can be the best way to motivate myself.
A few weeks ago I made the longlist in a writing award and had to submit my full manuscript for the next stage in the judging process. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t finished writing. I had one week to write the last 10 to 20k words, but I managed it, more easily than I anticipated.
That’s the thing about a deadline: you have to do the work. You don’t have a choice.
When you’re writing for yourself, it’s so easy to put it off and come up with endless excuses. But you can’t avoid an important closing date.
Since then, I’ve created another deadline for myself by making the decision to submit my manuscript to a different competition, which requires a certain word count. I’m a little short at the moment, so I have an incentive to add another few thousand words, something I would need to do anyway during the editing process.
Of course, deadlines can be a source of stress rather than motivation, but there are ways you can use them to your best advantage.
Whether it’s a self-imposed deadline or not, you need to prioritise your workload, especially if your time is limited. It may be that you have to sacrifice something else to get the work done, for example the week I was due to complete my manuscript, I stopped watching television after work and cut back on my exercise routine to make more time for writing.
If you’ve set yourself a deadline that you have no real intention of meeting, what’s the point? It’s a whole lot of stress for nothing.
If deep down you know that you probably won’t commit the time to finishing a project, it might be better to let it go. This could be a sign that you just don’t want it enough or it’s not that important to you.
Don’t set yourself a crazy deadline for the sake of it. Sometimes ideas need a little more time to percolate in your brain before you commit them to paper. It also helps to give yourself enough time to deal with writer’s block or unexpected problems.
Use motivational aids
When I write, I like to listen to music to create a certain mood, which makes me more creative. I have a list of songs on my iPod that I can turn to, which I add to on a regular basis to keep things fresh.
For you, it might be an app that will prevent you from going online while you’re trying to write, or your favourite coffee for an energy boost.
Keep a calendar
It’s all very well having a deadline, but if you’ve lost track of when it is, then you could end up in trouble. Make sure you record all your important deadlines somewhere, whether it’s a wall planner in your office or on your phone.
Plus if it’s written down where other people can see it, it becomes official and much harder to avoid.