Working to Deadlines: How to Build Up a Head of Steam

RokSatMy piece for the GuideStar blog was due yesterday.

And I spent the two weeks before that deadline fretting and in a state of anxiety.

Don’t worry… I did write the piece and I got it in on schedule. In fact, here it is!

But it wasn’t easy.

Deadlines Make Excellent Fuel

I never find it easy to be highly productive. I write, and do many other things, to deadlines.  I seem unable to function any other way.

I know some people who simply do what they’re supposed to do in a steady, undramatic way.

But not me.

And perhaps not you, too.

kettle-20steamingSome people simply need deadlines to build up the head of steam they need trigger the creative process.  Without that pressure — the same kind of pressure that makes your tea pot whistle — the creative, focused parts of your brain may not fire. They function, but they don’t combust.

You can do the dishes, check email, make the bed, read a book and do crossword puzzles without much muss or fuss. But to actually write or compose or create? That takes a head of steam, and deadlines provide the fuel for my inner fire.

Trust Your Own Process

For years, I thought the way I worked was a weakness and a problem. But I’ve come to see it simply as my process. Not good, not bad — just what I have to do to produce my best work.

I’m still uncomfortable as deadlines come closer and I’m not sitting at my desk writing. But I’ve come to understand the discomfort as simply part of what my brain needs to do.

Deadlines still make me more and more anxious as they draw closer, until the moment when I can finally get myself to sit down and get the job done.  But now, having gone through this pattern hundreds of times, I take comfort in knowing that soon, all that pent up energy will release in a burst of concentration and creativity, and it’ll happen just in time to meet the deadline.

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Notice Your Creative Process

Think about the last time you had to get something done that required some serious thinking. Think about what you did to get yourself to the task. Do you do your best work on a deadline? Or do you work better without the deadline-anxiety? Notice your patterns.

What’s your process? Do you drive yourself crazy as you get ready to do some creative work? Or do you function in a steadier way that’s not driven by deadlines? Once you’re fully aware of what works for you, you can stop fretting and embrace them as a functional part of who you are.

Please share what seems to work best for you in the comments.

  • Randy

    I absolutely need deadlines. I will casually get some things done but for me to actually place a stamp on whatever I am doing a deadline has to be in place. Many times I chalked this up to being immature and irresponsible. That being said, there have been many times (especially during a creative project) – I have sat in front of my computer or tablet with a blank stare. Then out of no where as time is winding down I get a gushing flow of ideas as the deadline approaches. I would get more done in the last 2 hours than I would in the first 20.
    Great article again.. I will say even after this read – I still am trying to find ways to “fix myself” and hope to get things more things done and make better use of my time. (maybe thats another blog altogether… LOL)