Deadlines, Commitments & Discipline -- Oh My!

I have a feeling I’ve lost many of you already with that title. It doesn’t sound very fun. Believe me, I don’t even want to write about all that. I’m trying to think of all the other really interesting things I could do instead. Like go pull up that weed I keep looking at outside the window.

But I have one hour (deadline) to get a fresh new article sent over to the admin (commitment), and therefore I am typing words on the computer (discipline). So that’s what I’m thinking about right now. How we trick and cajole and push ourselves into working on a task and often only succeed in sucking all the fun out of it.

When I worked in the corporate world, my number one mantra when dealing with employee relations was - “people will find a reason (excuse) to be where they want to be.” In other words, if a worker was often late or home sick the motivating factor had a lot more to do with that person’s feelings about the job and far less to do with traffic. Or even health. Not that I’m saying employees should always choose their job over their private lives.

Here’s a specific example - an extreme one. I once worked with a woman who showed up for her job the afternoon following the birth of her child. She. Came. To. Work. Hours after giving birth! Who does that? Well, as it turns out, someone who had been embezzling and was scared her absence would allow the crime to be discovered. She wanted to be at the office rather than caring for herself and her newborn. It raised red flags with security (rightly so).

We will all find reasons (excuses) to be doing the things we want to be doing. We will forget to look at our phones. Or to eat. Or sleep. Time and other details of life will pass by as we think - one more page, just a little more shading there, what if I just try that?.........

But I love writing. And maybe you do also. Or there’s another form of art that you think you love to do. So why doesn’t it get done? Because there will always come a time when even our beloved activities turn painful and plodding. Here’s some ideas on how to bring the joy back to your productivity.

  • Remember the adage of Parkinson’s Law (technically the second law). It goes - the amount of work will expand to fill the amount of time allowed for it. Big containers of time will fill with big amounts of work. So if my deadline is next week, chances are the work will not be finished until next week. A procrastinator will just wait to do the work while stressing about it an entire week. No fun. An even more anxious person will begin the work right away only to re-work it to death over and over again. Set your container of time small. Perhaps even a bit smaller than you think necessary. Then get it done. It’s the dread we build up around the looming deadline that is so discouraging.

  • Commitments are just another word for community in my world. And we definitely need those. Accountability brings our dreams to the outside world. The sharing of the art with others. If I have a commitment or accountability with others, then they are expecting me to provide something. They are hoping and wanting to experience it. And that can be the most frightening part of being an artist. So take a good, hard look at your community. Are you committing to people who appreciate the effort? Are they supportive of the time and energy you put into the product? Only commit to those who “pay you back” with safe and nourishing responses. Those are the people you will want to keep working for.

  • I don’t like the word discipline. I guess over the years it has picked up too many heavy connotations. But really, it’s just about doing the work - showing up. And that is the most important component of any job we do. I used to joke that we would hire anyone with a one sentence resumé that read - “I will show up when expected.” It is that important. So with our freelance work, hobbies, side hustles, we need to find a way to just show up. Discipline. Or routine. Habits. It doesn’t have to result in the big project at all. Do the little habit and then allow the bigger steps to show up. Once we put on the tennis shoes, we might as well go to the gym. Once we have monotonously run through the scales, we might as well work on that song some more. Carve out that time to simply begin typing words every day. Some mindless, routine, small task that primes your brain for the bigger work.

Okay, my time is almost up. Which means that I will now stop editing, stop fussing, stop stressing. The very short deadline I set for myself (with some help from a dwindling laptop battery - that’s a free tip right there) has helped me with another completed creation. For better or worse, it’s done. And I want to send it off to be posted, because I like the person who is waiting on it. Is the title too long, I wonder? Maybe Containers, Support and Habits would be more accurate? No, the title I haphazardly dashed out one hour ago is the one that got me started, so I will trust it can get you started also.