Arbitrary Deadlines

As I write, the time approaches ten o’clock on the evening on November 14. I must complete and publish this article by midnight in order to meet my deadline. What happens if I don’t? Absolutely nothing. The deadline is self-imposed. It’s also completely arbitrary.

The fact of the matter is that I wouldn’t be writing at all if it wasn’t for the arbitrary deadline. I started with the goal to write about design and constructed constraints that would force me to do so. As the Writing page reads:

Thoughts on design, published on the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.

It’s the 14th, so I’ve got a deadline to meet.

Thus far, the great consequence has been that I have, indeed, written. I’ve written more than I ever have in my non-student, adult life – twenty-two articles to date. I’ve accomplished my goal, thanks to arbitrary deadlines.

There are downsides, however. A busy schedule, coupled with procrastination, has lead to stressful, last-minute writing sessions, all in an effort to meet the arbitrary deadline. This affects not only myself but my family – who sees less of me as a result. In particular, my wife has felt the burden of doing the things I’ve left undone because I’m writing.

The worst situation came while attempting to meet last week’s deadline – November 7. I underestimated the work of writing notes from Ampersand NYC, which necessitated four articles. Instead of meeting my deadline, I broke it. Publishing four articles in the same week also broke my one-per-week schedule.

For all my efforts, this technically wasn’t the first time a deadline was missed. Confession: I’ve taken small liberties with dates in order to maintain the facade of my weekly publishing schedule. Did anyone notice? No – no one is waiting for this article to be published. Does that remove the uneasy feeling that I’ve been dishonest? No it doesn’t.

Writing on the internet is a strange thing. Starting out, your reader is both no one and everyone at the same time. The fact that your words are “published” and accessible to anyone to read is motivating. Simply knowing that your words could be read promotes a higher standard of quality.

After all, motivation is the end goal. Arbitrary deadlines are a motivational tool, but at what point do they cease being helpful and become overly burdensome? When does positive stress (that forces action) become negative? If a deadline is compromised one time, it becomes easier to compromise a second. If there’s no positive pressure to meet a deadline, it’s no longer useful as a motivational tool.

Limitations and deadlines are necessary. To not have limitation is the illusion of freedom and the tyranny of infinite choice. To not have a deadline is to never finish. What must be remembered is that we are human beings and not rigid machines. We need deadlines, but we also need a degree of flexibility. Arbitrary deadlines are to help us, not control us.