Deadlines: Friend or Foe?

As much as I love summertime, every year I am delighted with the onset of autumn, and not just because my kids are going back to school. I actually look forward to getting back to a lifestyle replete with deadlines. 

Why? I can’t get anything done without them. 

Photo by Corinne Kutz

Photo by Corinne Kutz

I’m a mom of two young children and one handful of a rescue mutt. I have a husband with a demanding job that requires a fair amount of travel, and I run Tide Risers and a coaching and consulting practice called Bergen Street Strategy. My family lives in a 170+ year-old house that we’re restoring little by little. Without strict deadlines, it is far too easy for me to get pulled into a multitude of directions. There is always some other job that needs to be done somewhere.

In the summer I scale back my workload so I can travel and spend more time with my kids. It’s fantastic, and I’m so lucky I can make this work. But at the beginning of the summer every year I make plans for all of these amazing projects I’m going to get done while my workload is lighter. Tons of writing for this blog. Repainting my bedroom by myself. Making real headway with my grandfather’s memoir transcript. 

Do these ambitious but nonessential tasks get done? No. Because there’s no real deadline making me sweat. My E.B. White-esque fantasy of sitting on a porch overlooking the water while my kids and dog romp on the lawn; gin and tonic chilling next to me while I tap away on my laptop… not happening. And not always for bad reasons. Those kids find a baby bird being fed by its mother and of course I’m going to go see it. That dog begs to go for a run, and hey, running is a priority for me too now. There are too many wonderful distractions, and not enough deadlines.

What do deadlines do for me?


1.    Deadlines inspire a beneficial fear of failure. 

This past spring we spent an entire Tide Risers UnstickHer session focusing on our fear of failure and how to keep it from holding us back. Sometimes, however, this fear can be put to our advantage. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of being up against a deadline to get my creative juices flowing. Once I’m really up against it, I can seriously produce some creative work.

2.    Deadlines give me incremental wins. 

One reason why I don’t like New Year’s resolutions is they are just too binary. You achieve them and you win, or you don’t and you fail. They only come along once a year, so the stakes are high. Deadlines throughout the year give me plenty to celebrate along the way when I get little things done.
Resolutions and many types of goal-setting structures fail to consider the multi-dimensionality of our existence. You can’t just push a button faster to produce more widgets. We’re complicated by our personal history, our faith, our relationships, and our circumstances.

Photo by Han Chau

Photo by Han Chau

3.    Deadlines are a vital organizing tool. 

Project management comes easier when you can work backwards from deadlines. Once I’m organized and know when I’m going to do what tasks, I can breathe easier. One of my favorite pieces of advice about household tidying is if you want to get your house in order, throw a party. You’ll have to do all the cleaning and organizing you need to have guests in, and it gives you a hard and fast deadline by which time you need to get it done. Same thing goes for work projects. In fact, I named my Tide Risers members’ newsletter Tuesday Newsday exactly for this purpose – to make it essential that I get it out the door on a Tuesday. 

For some other tricks to getting things done, check out my blog post: Accountability Tactics: How to Make Yourself Just Do It.

 Are deadlines your friend or foe? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.