Back in my teaching/coordination days I used to have the following image hanging behind my desk.
Most of my students hated it. They would look at me with puppy eyes requesting extensions for various assignments (without truly extenuating circumstances) and I would remind them that “a deadline is your friend”. Creative people (and humans at large) have a tendency to procrastinate. I know many of you will look at the two pictures below and know exactly what I am talking about.
First, let me say that procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need to tune ourselves to the right frequency. We engage in activities which will help the process. If we spend too much time concentrating our brain become highly uncreative and eventually just tired. In other words, all work no play makes Jack a dull boy, and this is especially true in creative fields. Sometimes we think that we are not doing any work, but in the back of our mind between one pleasure and the next we are actually solving problems, sometimes with solutions which surprise us in a moment when we were not expecting them.
Second, let me say that procrastination is a bad thing. This is especially true if you do not have a deadline. Time is limited and eventually you will run out of it. We risk to continuously postpone the less pleasurable aspects of our job/work until eventually a year has passed in front of our eyes and we have not achieved a single productive objective. The deadline, however, will eventually instil in us a sense of fear. We will imagine that day, that moment, the deadline. We will think about the consequences of not delivering on time, whether professional, social or emotional. We will face fear. The same fear that gives us extra strength and power when we are facing danger in the wild. Fear can be a paralysing force, but combined with the potential pleasure of delivering something of quality, on time and to receive the tap on the back, the admiration, the attention, the celebration, whatever works for you, fear can be a powerful force.
I have seen people throw more money at a project in order to avoid having to extend a deadline. Of course, there is the bad publicity aspect of the equation. “If they are extending the deadline, it must be because there are a lot of problems and that the quality simply isn’t there.” This isn’t necessarily true, but often it can be. I believe however that some people will throw more money at a project in order to respect a deadline because they are aware that the added pressure will be ‘helpful’ (and the cost will end up being roughly the same, time is money after all). Deadlines will make us work harder, sometimes they will force us to face a sleepless night or two, and after all, a creative project is never truly finished, eventually you just reach the deadline.
A deadline works best when someone else is involved. If I set a deadline for myself and it is not tied to anything concrete (a meeting, a shoot, a screening) it will not carry any real weight. It is hard to cheat yourself. It is also hard to disappoint. Of course all of this is only true if you care, care about your work, care about delivering on promises and care about what other people need from you. Someone wise once told me “you can be as stupid as you want, I will never judge you. If you are lazy and careless however, I have no time for you” Love your deadlines. It will be love-hate relationship. They will give you that tough love, because deadlines are you friends.