Setting deadlines and changing deadlines

The whole point of a deadline is supposed to be that the thing you’re working on is supposed to be done by the deadline, right? Maybe that’s why I’ve struggled with having to move my deadline back twice. Good writers and good workers hit their deadlines, after all.

In August, I set myself the goal of finishing my current rewrite by September 25. I was about a third of the way through rewriting a 110,000 novel, so that made it a very ambitious deadline. I can hit 3-4k a day on a first draft fairly easily, but adding in rewriting and re-reading time, that’s difficult. When I realized I’d miss that deadline, I moved it to October 9.  Just a few days ago, I had to move that deadline again, to the 22nd.

I felt disappointed with myself. Twice, I made a deadline and wasn’t able to reach it. The feeling of failure was pretty acute.

But one of those things I’d describe myself as being mediocre at is setting good deadlines. A good deadline has to be achievable, right? In reaching the first deadline, I counted on KRH going to daycare when we’d originally planned, giving myself 5 whole days for uninterrupted writing. I knew that in order to reach the deadline, I’d have to do a ton of writing on those days. Well, those plans changed, meaning there was no way I’d reach that goal.

I recalculated, moving the goal up 2 weeks, to the day before I expected to return to work. But even then, that required me to write about 3k words a day, again re-writing with rereading time. That takes me 2-3 hours a day. I can do that, but it uses up any nap time KRH might give me and time in the evening. More importantly, it was using time that I needed to finish other temporary but higher-priority goals (basically, stuff I need to do before I go back to work). So after about a week, I realized that wasn’t the best use of my time, either. Hence, another pushed deadline.

I think that for my own sake, it’s important to remember that this was an entirely self-imposed deadline. Some deadlines, in other words, are worth staying up all night for (or at least a few extra hours). But for the sake of a month, when I’ve already told myself dozens of times (and will keep having to, really) where taking care of KRH was the primary goal, then it’s not worth killing myself over. A different deadline would be.

So what makes a good deadline, anyway? I’ve recently been reading Shawn Achor’s Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change. I’m a big fan of Achor’s other book, The Happiness Advantageas a science-based look about how to bring positivity into your life and the proven benefits of doing that. In  Before Happoiness, there are some interesting ideas about how to design good goals. A couple stuck with me. From Before Happiness.

“Identify your X-spots. X-spots help your brain believe that success is close, possible, and worthwhile. They need not be near the end of successfully completing a project; they can be found all along the way. When you are at work, design minigoals that you can achieve daily so that you can be sure to reap the benefits of mental accelerants each and every day. Set markers to highlight for yourself when you’re 70 percent of the way to each minigoal—that will cue your brain to release the productivity-enhancing chemicals that will speed up your progress. And for particularly challenging or mundane tasks, focus on “progress to date” rather than “what’s left to do.”

Keep your eyes on the beach, not the rocks. Mentally practice and visualize accomplishing the small steps you need to take to get to your goal. Your brain will naturally steer you toward whatever you focus on, so instead of visualizing failure, visualize what success could realistically look like.

Make 70 percent your goal. Design goals or minigoals that you genuinely believe you have more than a 70 percent chance of achieving. If you doubt your likelihood of success from the beginning, then you dramatically decrease your chances of hitting your target. If you honestly believe you have less than a 70 percent chance to complete the goal, adjust it to make its likelihood of success more than 70 percent.”

I recommend checking out his work if you haven’t already. Still, these are things I’m trying to embrace in my current goal-setting. I think it’s easy to see how, by breaking down goals, staying focused on success, and believing you can achieve your goal, you can increase your chance of actually achieving it. Both of my previous deadlines didn’t take these into account. We’ll see if my next attempt can do better.

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