The Power of a Good Deadline

It’s natural to put things off, postpone writing or drawing and do anything but your most important creative work.

Professionals goof off too.

Jim Carrey, for example, spends more time painting than he does making films, but here’s the thing…

Professionals also work to deadlines.

It doesn’t mater if you’re a writer, artist, painter or musician, time is your ally if you know how to use it.

Set an artificial deadline

An editor typically gives a writer a deadline to work towards.

He or she will say, “I need this article or a first draft by end of the month or the cute puppy gets it.”

If you don’t have a deadline for a creative project, review your calendar and pick a target completion date. Be optimistic.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, says:

“Estimate how long you’d normally put aside for an obligation of this type, then give yourself a hard deadline that drastically reduces this time.”

Caveat: Unless you want to pull a George R.R. Martin, be optimistic privately and realistic publicly.

Stack blocks of time on top of each other

Lots of great people like to put off the work until the last minute. The use a looming deadline motivate themselves to get to work. They pull all-nighters and work for hours on end.

This approach may be effective for some people but if you’re struggling to manage deadlines, don’t take that risk.

Set aside an hour to each day when you will work on your book, album, or painting or creative project.

Like Lego, these blocks of time add up.

You can create for half an hour or an hour each day and then by the end of the week you will have spent up to 10 hours on your creative project.

This is the same amount of time as somebody who pulls an all-nighter.

Practice working with small deadlines

The next time you sit down to write, compose, paint or draw, set a timer on your computer or your phone for 30 or 60 minutes.

Then say to yourself, “I will do write 300 words” or “I will draw a dog before this buzzer sounds” or “I will write one journal entry.”

Sure, this is a small personal deadline that no one but you will care about. But it gets you into the habit of trying to accomplish more creative work in less time.

Like an athlete who builds strength with light weights, these small deadlines will help you power through big ones later on.

Enjoy little moments of guilt-free procrastination

If you’re feeling burned out and you have no desire to paint draw or compose put your work down. Leave a short note to yourself about what you need to fix, for example “Write a proper introduction”.


Sleep for an hour.

Go for a long walk in the park.

Eat a rich cream slice in the coffee shop.

Slay the sock monster in your bottom drawer.

Even though you’ve stopped working, your subconscious will continue to mull on the creative problem at hand.

This is called productive procrastination.

Later, when you sit down to work, you’ll feel more refreshed and confident about overcoming the problem before you. Your brain will present you with a solution that seemed unreachable just hours ago.

Got questions about deadlines or sock monsters? Hit me up in the comments section below.