Sunday, March 20, 2011

Talking to My Deadlines

Yes, I have deadlines

photo by openDemocracy on Flickr

I’ve lived with deadlines for a long time. They rule my life as an indexer. The index is the very last thing that happens before the book is published. If you think about it, this makes sense—the index, which tells you what page things are on, can’t be created until what page things are on is absolutely final. After those last paragraphs the author wanted to add, and the illustration the designer decided should be a little bigger, which moved everything on the following one hundred pages over by a half page. Final.

Thus, by the time the publisher sends me the page proofs, they want them back yesterday. The printer is waiting, everything else is done. So---if you’re a good indexer, you don’t send in your jobs even one day late. Editors need to be able to count on you.

I’m a very good and reliable indexer. I’ve been meeting deadlines for twenty-five years. But I’ve never really come to terms with them.

And of course, the more endeavors I jump into (I’m a scanner, remember?) the more deadlines there are. Right now, besides two indexing deadlines, I have a CD-production deadline, a workshop-planning deadline, and a tax deadline. Then there are self-imposed deadlines, which help to move my projects along. I’ve promised my Right-brainers in Business support group that my new teaching website will be up by the end of March.

So there are all these deadlines.


And they scare me. When they’re far away, I don’t think about them and feel free. Yay, no immediate deadlines! And then all of a sudden they jump out at me and scare me. They loom. I feel oppressed, constricted, afraid. I worry worry worry. Oh no, I’m not going to get them done.

And I then use that energy to get them done. Not a fun way to live.

I’ve tried various strategies for dealing with them, some of which have helped a lot. I’ve made daily quotas for indexing. I use Getting Things Done and plan the next action for each project. I’m definitely better at spreading the work out over time than I used to be (which is good, because at 51 I’m getting too old for all-nighters!)

But they still scare me.

A conversation

So, inspired by Havi’s monster conversations, I decided to talk to them. Here’s the conversation.

Me: Hello, deadlines. We’ve lived together for a long time but I don’t think I’ve ever talked to you. Will you talk to me?
Deadlines: Sure! (crowded, talking over and shoving each other, very cheerful)
Me: Hmm, what should I say? I often feel afraid of you.
Deadlines: Hahahahahahaha!

photo by CarbonNYC on Flickr
 Me: I’m afraid that when you appear, I’ll fail. I won’t be able to do what I promised. Hmm—and I sometimes pretend you’re not there. I put you in a room and close the door.
Deadlines: We don’t like that! That’s why we jump out at you when you remember us! Boo!! (they’re laughing like two-year-olds just before a meltdown)
Me: Oh. Oh. You really are with me all the time—close or far. But I wish you would just go away.
Deadlines: That’s mean! You need us!
Me: What do I need you for?
Deadlines: To make sure you Get Things Done. That you keep your promises. You only do that when you’re worried.
Me: I DO want to keep my promises. And I WANT to do the things I’ve planned. But I don’t want to be worried.
Deadlines: (shrugging and punching each other) Too bad. That’s the only way.
Me: Okay, I don’t think that’s true. I think we can change this. Let’s see, you need to make sure I get things done. I need that too. I also need ease and smoothness, and confidence not worry. You know if I’m confident, I get more done? Oh, and I need STRUCTURE.
Deadlines: Structure?
Me: Yes, clear expectations for when I’ll do each thing.
Me: Maybe you can help me with the structure. Do you want to help?
Deadlines: Yes, yes, let us help! We can help! (they still feel like little kids)
Me: I need structure that doesn’t crush me. It’s more like awareness. The ability to make flexible plans.
Deadlines: Can we be there with you?
Me: Oh, is it a place? I wonder what it looks like?
I think it’s a place where I know I’m safe and I have all my tools around me. So I can plan. (Liking the italics button)
And yes, you can be there too. You know what? You feel like little kids. I think you need some cuddling. 
Deadlines: (crowding around, delighted) Cuddle! Cuddle! Ahhh. 
Me: I also notice that you’re shoving each other and interrupting each other a lot. What’s that about? 
Deadlines: We’re afraid you won’t notice us. We have to get in front. We feel desperate. 
Me: So if you each have a special cuddling place in my Planning Room and you know I will pay attention to you, that will feel better, right? 
Deadlines: (looking cute) YES. 
Me: Okay, I promise not to shove you behind a door any more. And you promise to be gently present and not trying to scare me.
Well, okay.

Well, okay. That gave me some directions to go. I’ve been sitting with the task of making a planning process (place) where my deadlines can be with me and not scare me. Where I can set up structures for myself that mean I can trust that I’ll get things done.

I’m calling it Gentle Planning.

I think I have some ideas.

To be continued.

Join me in the comments! I'd love you to share your methods of dealing with deadlines, but let's give each other space to work through our own stuff: no unsolicited advice.


  1. I love your brave conversation with your peeps! I've identified my Gremlins (things that I do to avoid deadlines) as 1. A homing pigeon: I have to clean everything around me before I can work. 2. Paper Terror: I HATE paperwork and will find super important other things to do instead. 3. Flying Trapeze: I jump from one project/idea/rope to another and collect a pile of fabulous ideas, but I have trouble landing on one. Sigh....thanks for sharing!

  2. Love it!!! Especially the Flying Trapeze! I do that too.

  3. Thanks, Do Mi. Knew I'd be rewarded by adding you to my Google Reader feeds (one way to create a place for information so it's not jostling so hard for my distracted attention).
    Ah, deadlines. Work more efficiently with than without. Maybe I need to have a talk with mine. Like to skip around, too, but that's not very efficient. Look forward to reading more!

  4. Hi Joanne! I'm honored to have a place on your feed. I know you know about deadlines! Another installment coming soon...

  5. I don't not like getting my work done. But i notice that whenever a deadline is close, i'm more nervous with the task and might even not get it done(i get uncontrollably and alarmingly nervous!) i wish i could be better with deadlines because shoving them aside really costs me.

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