Steven DeMaio has a helpful article on The Art of the Self-Imposed Deadline.
Before you check that out, it’s worth asking how self-imposed deadlines relate to GTD. For, on the face of it, self-imposed deadlines actually seem contrary to the “getting things done” approach. Here’s a quick word on that.
One of the principles of GTD is that you should only put deadlines on stuff that really has a deadline. This preserves your “hard landscape” so that you can make effective decisions, knowing what really is on a timeline and what isn’t.
It would be easy to take that counsel and then conclude that, therefore, we should never have self-imposed deadlines — that somehow self-imposed deadlines “don’t count” or “aren’t real,” but deadlines imposed by others somehow are.
But this would be a mistake. It would be a mistake to think that self-imposed deadlines aren’t valid, but deadlines imposed by others are.
The reason it is so easy to fall think that self-imposed deadlines aren’t real is that we tend to think that a self-imposed deadline is arbitrary. After all, we’re the one setting it. So why does it have to be Friday rather than next Wednesday?
But if you think about it, the same charge of arbitrariness could be made for deadlines that are assigned to us as well. After all, some person decided on that deadline as well. Why does that make it any less arbitrary than when we set the deadline ourselves?
The fact is that deadlines are a convention for keeping your work going along at the right clip. It is true that sometimes a deadline is an indication that things will completely fall apart if it is not made (for ex: I have to be at the airport in 1 hour, and here I am typing this blog post — better get this wrapped up!).
But the main value of deadlines is that they are a way to keep all your work from hitting at once, and to coordinate your work with the expectations of others so that they can fit your deliverables into their own consequent work in an orderly way. When this framework is behind your deadlines, they are not “arbitrary” but are in fact quite useful — and necessary.
In fact, without some manner of self-imposed deadlines on your work, you’ll either never get anything done, or you will never get any rest (because when nothing has a due date, your mind tends to feel like everything is always due right away — so you’ll feel like you should always be working).
The trick is, just don’t set too many deadlines. Use this tool, but use it wisely.
Well, with this said, go take a look at Steven DeMaio’s four tips for learning The Art of the Self-Imposed Deadline.