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Agreeing on Deadlines With Yourself Just Doesn’t Work: Here’s What Does

Agreeing on Deadlines With Yourself Just Doesn’t Work: Here’s What Does

A piece of advice that I have heard many times over is to set deadlines with yourself. In other words, when you are working on a task, you then agree on a deadline that you are trying to keep. This in turn should help you to finish the task in time.

Let me ask you this, however: How many times you have set these kinds of deadlines only to realize that you weren’t able to keep them? Or, how many times have you postponed or changed that very deadline till a later date since you realized you can’t get the task done because the deadline was unrealistic? I don’t know about you, but this has happened to me many times and I have come to the conclusion that negotiating and setting deadlines just with yourself is doomed to fail.

The problem is that it’s so easy change and postpone the deadlines rather than trying your hardest to get the work done within the defined boundaries. If this is the case, what is actually causing us to neglect those deadlines we set this way?

You are not feeling the pressure

The answer to this question is simple: you keep the deadlines to yourself and no one else knows about them.

The problem with this approach is that it’s easy to make changes to the original plan since you are the only person to know about it. Without any external feedback or pressure toward yourself, making those changes is very effortless. Unfortunately, this is just cheating yourself and that can lead to unnecessary procrastination, which in turn makes things more difficult for yourself and accomplishing a task becomes harder and harder.

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This is too bad, since the noble idea of a deadline is now turned upside down: Rather than setting the boundaries to your work and getting them done in a timely manner, the task keeps hanging on your task list unnecessarily.

So you think that others are criticizing you?

When I consider the situations when I have set the deadlines with myself (which I wasn’t then able to keep), I can think of at least three core reasons for doing so:

  • I didn’t want to feel external pressure
  • I wasn’t sure if I was able to finish the task in time
  • I felt that others could criticize me if I didn’t deliver the task within the set boundaries

First, announcing a deadline publicly makes you more exposed to external pressure. In other words, other people expect that you will fulfill the promise of getting something done before the deadline. If this pressure is just too much to handle, you try to avoid it.

Secondly, you may feel unconfident about your own capabilities of delivering a task within a timeframe. This is especially true if you really don’t know the task well or that you don’t have the necessary skills to perform it.

Thirdly, no one wants to be criticized or yelled at if the work isn’t delivered on time. Keeping the deadline to yourself is easier, since you are the only one who knows about it.

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Stretching your comfort zone

In order to get rid of the inefficiencies of internally-negotiated deadlines, you should just do the opposite: be open about them and announce the deadlines to the world. Only in that way can you expect better results, and it makes you try harder to deliver the tasks on time. Even though this may seem scary to some, you should do it anyway. That’s the only way of overcoming the continuous postponing and cheating on yourself with deadlines, which you are not going to meet.

Before you announce anything to the world, understand that you have less time than you think. When you realize this, it helps you to set more realistic deadlines, thus diminishing the fears that you have towards setting the public timeframes. Also, when you are realistic about your own skills and understand what the task is really all about, and then giving more accurate schedules becomes easier.

Deadlines the right way

1. Analyze your situation thoroughly. Before setting the deadlines, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the actual amount of time that I have?
  • How much work do I really have to do?
  • What is my skillset related to the task and the deadline?

Be very realistic with the answers, since this lays the foundation for good solid deadlines. If you have any doubts about your own skills, about the task, or the time available, it’s time to be more conservative on what you promise.

2. Less is more. Decide the goal you want to reach, but be aware of promising too much. As mentioned, you have less time on your hands than you think and time literally flies when you get down into your work.

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Taking a slightly more conservative approach is better than trying to promise too much. Getting less work done in this case is better than explaining later why you weren’t able to get everything done that you so boldly promised to do.

3. Take external factors into account.  Understand that there are factors which decrease the amount of time you have for the task and for meeting the deadline.

For instance, if you promised to do a task for your boss within five days, but you are travelling on Monday and you have meetings all Tuesday, all of a sudden you have only three days to do the task. Take these external causes into account when deciding on the public deadline for your work.

4. Be honest with yourself (and others). This point is absolutely crucial.

For instance, when I was at my day job and I was assigned a task which I wasn’t skilled to do, I let my boss or project manager know about it. This way, I wasn’t setting unrealistic expectations and everyone knew what the real situation was.

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5. Announce the deadline to the world.  Once you have all the background work done, it’s time to publicly announce your deadline. This makes you really try to meet the deadline and postponing it becomes harder and harder.

When you announce your schedule, make yourself accountable—for instance, towards to your blog’s visitors, e-mail list subscribers, your friends, your spouse, your colleagues and your boss, your mastermind group, or your coach.

6. Learn from failure. If you still happen to miss a deadline, analyze why it happened. Just calmly figure out the reasons that lead to missing it and use that experience the next time when you set another deadline.

Conclusion

There are times when keeping a deadline to yourself is justified, but if you have an important task that you want to get done, announcing the deadline to the world is a better option (especially if this task takes you closer to your big goals). For instance, I’m writing a productivity book right now and I have already announced to my e-mail subscribers (and anyone who I talk with), that this book is going to be published on October 22nd, 2013.

This way, I will make sure to really meet the deadline and get everything done before that date.

Over to you: How do you create effective deadlines?

More by this author

Do You Do This Common Mistake When You Start Working on Your Tasks? 9 Valuable Lessons Learned After Writing My First Book How to Create a To-Do List that Makes You Smile Agreeing on Deadlines With Yourself Just Doesn’t Work: Here’s What Does 3 Threats to Effective Time Blocking and How To Solve Them

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

Regardless of how creative you already consider yourself to be, there’s a good chance you would like to level up your creative abilities.

You might want to write a better song, think of better solutions to problems at work or around the home or maybe paint a picture.

In any case, the good news is that creativity is not born: it’s made, and each one of us has the potential to be more creative and come up with incredible ideas.

“Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.

Creativity also emphasizes values.

“The process of having original ideas that have value” — Ken Robinson

This makes up for what Csikszentmihalyi misses out. For instance, we can make a change in the world without adding significant value. Any destructive act, like smashing a window, creates change, but it doesn’t necessarily create valuable change.

In short, there isn’t one single definition of creativity It’s up to us to find a definition that feels true and useful. When you know what your standard is, It’s much easier to embrace creativity and start to cultivate it.

And in this article, you will learn how to be more creative and take a good look at what goes into the creative skill:

1. Cultivate Focus

In order to create, there needs to be a focus on creating something, whether it’s a song, a theory, a product, or a sculpture.

You could also call this “drive” – it’s the initial spark that drives the solution to a problem, or the will to get on your laptop and start typing.

However, it’s worth noting there are different stages to the creative process: the divergent stage and the convergent stage.

In the divergent stage, we want a broad focus – we want to be willing to let in lots of different inputs, ideas and insights. This is the time for brainstorming all possible ideas and solutions.

In the convergent stage, we start to narrow our focus, like a camera lens. At this stage, we start to drill down to a handful of ideas or solutions, discriminating throughout the process.

How to cultivate focus?

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Take a 20 Minute Walk

Walking away and getting your heart rate up is the best free tool you have in regaining your focus.

I know it might seem counterintuitive to take a break right when you’re at your busiest, and especially when you’re drowning in your massive to do list, but the effects it will have on your clarity and ability to focus are undeniable.

Walking is physiologically proven to release stress, and clear your mind. In fact, most of my most brilliant ideas (and some pretty terrible ones too) have occurred on my daily walks.

If you give this technique a try, what you’ll find is that you’re much more productive than you were before you took a breather.

Over time, if you do these walks daily, you’ll quickly find that your to-do list starts to feel a lot less significant, and a lot more doable. It’s all about keeping razor focused, and that’s what short daily walks will gift you.

2. Build a Structure

When I wake up in the morning, I start the day with a structure in mind. I know that 15 minutes will be dedicated to meditation, 30 minutes to coffee and reading, 20 minutes to yoga and so on.

The structure of this morning routine might be boring, but the act of each task in itself has the potential to be, on some level, “creative.”

The point of structure is that it gives you the space to make time for something you want to do. It helps you carve out the time to do your creative work. Once you begin that thing in itself, you are free to go about it however you’d like.

Without structure, we can lose focus and can feel overwhelmed with possibility. If you’ve ever looked at a blank page and felt too overwhelmed with possibility to make a mark on it, you’ll know what I mean. How much easier it gets when you are given some guidelines or a deadline?

The trick is finding the right amount of structure for you and your creative needs. Too little structure and we feel overwhelmed. Too much structure, and we risk feeling limited and stifled.

Again, it’s worth thinking about creating in those two stages: divergent (less structure) and convergent (more structure.)

How to build a structure?

Create a Morning Routine

Your morning routine doesn’t have to be rigid or so arduous you dread waking up. In fact, it should feel like the opposite. When you get a routine that works for you, you’ll look forward to starting the day.

We all have different needs and preferences which can shape our ideal routine. In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, you can be inspired over 160 different creators’ daily routines, from Charles Darwin to Pablo Picasso.

Experiment with any that take your fancy, and see how you feel with a bit more structure to start your day.

You can also take a look at this article about morning routine for inspirations: The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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3. Find Motivation

There is a theory that suggests: people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. This is also known as intrinsic motivation; a drive that comes from within.

Think of a time when you did some of your best work — chances are you were totally absorbed in what you were doing, to the exclusion of everything else. You were completely focused on the work itself, barely noticing time flying by.

Now think of a time when you felt under pressure to perform. Maybe it was an exam, or a commission for an important client, or maybe your boss had told you “there’s a lot riding on this.”

Notice the difference? In the first memory, you were driven by intrinsic motivation, which made it relatively easy, even enjoyable, to be highly creative.

In the second memory however, extrinsic motivation was breathing down your neck, distracting you by whispering about the rewards for success and the horrible consequences of failure: likely making it harder to focus on the task at hand.

For this reason, intrinsic motivation, if you can find it, is what separates the good from great creative work.

This isn’t to say only internal motivators help. I personally get motivated by luring myself to work with a good cappuccino at my favourite cafe. That will get me ready to write or edit or whatever I’ve been avoiding.

How to find motivation?

Connect to Your “Why”

Your “Why” is your fuel: the thing that drives you forward, that gives you a reason to do what you’re doing.

‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ — Friedrich Nietzche

When you have a reason to do something, a purpose or a goal that matters to you, you can connect your daily actions to it. Then, each act becomes infused with meaning and you find that intrinsic motivation comes naturally.

The trick is to remember your “why” and connect with it on a regular basis.

Think about how you want to feel on a daily basis. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? What would you like for yourself in the next five years? How about in your lifetime?

Ultimately, the tasks you face on a daily basis, or at least some of them, will connect to a greater purpose if you follow this path and you will find you feel more motivated to create and less resistance.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking for motivation, this will help: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

4. Be an Expert in a Chosen Domain

Research has shown that just as expertise in one domain does not predict expertise in other unrelated domains; creativity in one domain does not predict creativity in other unrelated domains.[1]

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So just because you can paint a pretty picture, doesn’t mean you can creatively solve a mathematical problem.

If you’ve taken one of those tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which will ask you to think of a bazillion uses for a pencil, and scored well, unfortunately this is only an indicator of divergent thinking skills. It is not a predictor for creativity all round.

The good news is, you can train your creativity in your chosen domain. Much like a muscle, you can isolate exercises to strengthen it.

Of course you can still do a total body workout – or atotal creativity workout – but it means your creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains; not just thinking up uses for a pencil.

How to become an expert?

Make a Mastery Training Plan

Following our physical workout analogy, it’s worth applying the habits of great athletes to your chosen creative domain. For example:

1. Decide what area/s you want to work on

Much like a tennis player who decides they need to improve their serving technique, you can decide what area within your creative domain you want to improve at. Get specific.

2. Decide how much time you can dedicate

Most of us don’t have all day to train like a pro tennis player might, but you can likely squeeze 20 to 30 minutes in a day, if you want to. Whatever the time you can allow is, decide to dedicate yourself to it.

3. Review your progress

Finally, in order to check your progress, you can take regular reviews. Decide what your metrics are, and take time each week to check in with yourself.

How many days did you practice? How did you compare to the previous week? This kind of review can help you stay on track, and actually creates more intrinsic motivation as you see yourself develop.

5. Create a Conducive Environment

A psychologist in 1943 proposed that behaviour is:[2]

“a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.”

I would suggest that the act of creating is a behaviour and that, even though it begins as an internal process, it’s very much affected by and even dependent on the environment we are in.

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I started noticing how environment affects me when I worked in an office. Over time, I realized that the more people who were in or who were talking, the more distracted I was. If I got to the office early before my coworkers arrived, I was twice as effective.

I was even more effective if I was at home. Now that I work from home, I know I’m even more effective when in certain coffee shops. Ideally, places that have high ceilings, gentle lighting, some barely noticeable background music – and excellent coffee.

It’s these little variations in our environment that can really shape our creative output.

If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work alone. If you’re an extrovert, you probably do your best work in the company of others.

This isn’t to say you should find one way of doing things and stick to it: in fact, varying your environment from time to time is a great way to stoke the creative fire too, which we’ll touch on more later.

How to create a conducive environment?

Add or Subtract Stimuli

Novelty in our environment has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our desire to seek out reward.[3]

If you’re looking for creative motivation, adding some novelty into your environment can be just what you need.

On the other hand, some people are highly sensitive and when it comes to having too much stimulation in their environment, they find it difficult to focus.

Experiment with working in different environments. Note how you feel. Note whether you do better creative work or have more interesting ideas when you’re alone or with others.

Try listening to music, people chatting or try being in complete silence. Try a dimly lit room, try working in bright sunlight.

In each case, note how you feel before, during and afterwards and rate the quality of your work.

The Bottom Line

Creativity is not one particular skill or talent one can have. It comes in as many broad and unique flavors as there are people on this earth.

To be more creative, take little steps each day. Acknowledge where and when you feel most inspired, motivated and original and spend more energy in those areas.

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Featured photo credit: Sticker Mule via unsplash.com

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