I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”
Duke Ellington

This was shared by Tim Ferris in his Five Bullet Friday. This makes a lot of sense to me. Do you remember the last time you completed a task that had a definitive deadline? Compared to a task that had no definitive end date?

Don’t we all work better to a deadline? I’ve always found a specific end date for a task to be a much better motivator than an unending time period to get something done.

When I had a year to complete my degree dissertation we all planned our years appropriately with literature reviews and primary research studies all planned in various windows of time during the year. I did the normal thing of not really getting much done and leaving it to the last month. In fact, when I got about three weeks out I realised my entire premise was flawed and I scrapped my hypothesis and started with a fresh one. In those three weeks I managed to squeeze in what had previously been expected to be a year long project. Primary research, literature review, statistical analysis, the lot – and I scored well for the project too!

Sometimes having more time is detrimental to the task in hand. Is it a very human thing to need a fixed end time for a task? Or are we a subset of humans that don’t work well without limits? Maybe the planners and doers who don’t need deadlines are the minority, because most people I know struggle to complete things unless there’s a set end date for the job.

My wife and I have recently started setting specific goals around our long and short term targets. Even down to the fine schedule of our morning e.g the alarm goes off at 5:30 and we must be up by 5:45, half an hour of meditation, half an hour of reading or writing. Each block of time having a definitive start and finish.

Time counting down in the background for me makes the task more pressured and therefore I tend to think quicker and trust my decisions. Possibly this is a way to get in to the flow state more promptly and trusting that I will get the right results.

I remember reading a study a while back (here) showing people tend to make better decisions when they need to go to the bathroom. A full bladder makes us work quicker and more efficiently – probably for the same reason, there’s a physical time limit on how long we’ve got to make the decisions and act in the task we’re currently carrying out.

I’m going to try putting more time limits on life goals such as debt recovery, savings accounts, travel plans and daily tasks because all the evidence points to it improving the likelihood of completion.