A mystery writer once wrote that nothing focuses the mind like a loaded gun pointed your way.
That’s how I feel about deadlines. Not that I think deadlines are dangerous (although they can be), or that they have the fatal potential of handguns (although it can feel that way sometimes).
I need deadlines to get me to concentrate. I suppose there are people who can get up and get to work without thinking about what needs to get done when, but I’m not one of them.
These might be the same sort of people who just sit down and start writing novels or plays without an outline. Somehow they get it all to come together, but I need structure and a little bump of anxiety to get myself in gear and come up with a coherent plan of attack.
This works for me even when deadlines are self-imposed. In fact, self-imposed deadlines are virtually the only way I manage to make progress on career development, or other personal goals.
I think this is relevant for all those looking for work, trying to grow their careers or looking to make positive change of any sort.
That’s because, even if you have a career coach or an incredibly proactive support group, no one is going to make these changes for you. No one will be monitoring your networking efforts, and riding you to make more contacts. No one will be checking on you to see how you’re coming with that skill set assessment, or statement of career goals and objectives.
You’ll have to do it yourself, and sometimes you won’t feel like it. That’s where schedules, plans and timelines come in. They’ll help you allocate your time and keep you moving towards your goal.
But I’m suggesting that many of us need a little more than a nice outline of activities. We need something with teeth, and that’s why deadlines can be so useful.
What makes a deadline different from any other entry on your “To Do” list? Commitment. You might allocate a certain amount of time each week to re-working your resume, or re-vitalizing your career, but unless you give yourself measurable goals and due dates you’ll be focusing on your activities, rather than the results those activities are intended to achieve.
Deadlines help you keep your eyes on the prize. Try setting a big one, such as having a new job within 12 months, and then plot out several little deadlines, such as targeting the top 10 companies where you’d like to work.
Calling a certain benchmark a deadline might not have the film noir cachet of a loaded gun, but it should definitely improve your ability to get things done.
by Danielle Dresden