Rachel Curry

Making a deadline work for you / A system for people who hate systems

Barrel that says "Have Fun"


Oct 15


Did anyone else work up until the last moment of a deadline in high school? I did that all the time. Sometimes I’d stay up to all hours finishing something…or procrastinating until the final hour when I really just had to get it done. Thankfully, my high school work isn’t anything that I have to live with professionally!

I saved a lot of my high school writing. Just over a year ago when I went through all that I’d saved, I found a lot of “final drafts.” With just a little more effort and time, these “final drafts” could have actually become a final product. Later, in college and in the world of work, I learned to pace myself better to come up with a more polished product without all the sleep deprivation! Still, I learned an important lesson about productivity in high school:

The value of a deadline is that it puts me into a “do it now” mode. And things get done.

The difference between now and high school is that now I set the deadlines, far before the final product is needed. Rather than focusing on the final deadline, I agree to smaller ones: I agree to start a draft, or continue working on it. This is how I make deadlines work for me.

In writing this post, I have given myself 10 minutes to see how far I can get. This is not a huge commitment, and allows me to begin with little pressure. If instead, I were to sit down and say, “I’m going to write a whole blog post,” the immature and easily-distracted “brat” in me says, “Well, I dunno,” and can very easily come up with a better use of time–Facebook, Netflix… Each of us has our own version of this inner resistance.

In my work with clients, I’ve met different versions of the ego. Meet the “enlightened ego” who says, “We’re better than this, than this coach [Rachel]. We’re above these trivial thoughts. Why revisit them again?” The enlightened ego will use all the internal work someone has done against them, as a reason for not doing any more. Essentially, it says, “We don’t need to grow anymore.”  

I’ve also met the “perfectionist.” Maybe you’ve met this one before? It’s the one who says, “I can’t get started until I am fully and completely ready!” Or, the one who keeps working on something, never seeing the end, always making tweaks or trashing it all just to restart, the search for the perfect end product, ever fearing what others would think if they ever saw one of the imperfect drafts. *Gasp.*

Closely related is the “artist,” who says, “My genius overtakes me and unless I can ensure that all is going to go as planned, I simply cannot begin, or cannot end.” The tragedy about both the perfectionist and the artist is not just that their life’s work can get buried in the creating of it, and may never be shared, but more that they are in constant justification and fear. To the perfectionists and the artists, I ask: “What would it be like if instead of setting out to complete your magnum opus, you were to agree to simply start a draft? 

I’ve taken another five minutes on top of the original 10 to which I agreed. Now fifteen minutes in, I’m faced with a choice – continue to write, or press the “pause” button? I give myself permission to make this choice. If creativity isn’t flowing, I don’t stress. I press pause. There is a power in pressing pause. My mind knows that I only spent 15 minutes here, a small time in the scheme of life. This mindset gives me freedom to come back and do another 15 at a later date, or after just a short break. It makes me WANT to come back, because it was easy. 

A deadline puts the ego in check. Each version of the ego–the brat, enlightened, perfectionist, artist–is rooted in fear: fear that things will change, that we will not be safe, that we’ll look dumb for not knowing something.

This fear isn’t a bad thing–it’s the same self-preservation that keeps us from running into traffic without being aware of cars flying by! But when we find ourselves in situations that are not life threatening, wouldn’t it be nice if the ego could just take a break? Introducing a deadline takes the pressure off so that the ego does not feel threatened. And in that perfect, beautiful place called the present moment, we can really do our best work!

Barrel that says "Have Fun"

Hmm, I guess I forgot about the time! Funny how that happens when I’m enjoying myself. 😉

In writing this post, I used a system that didn’t feel like a system. I simply agreed to start and work for 10 minutes. It gave me total freedom to spend a limited time, and I was then free to go do something else, or keep going. If you don’t like “systems,” but could benefit from getting more done in your life, I invite you consider this way to just get started, or to continue to work on a task. While I do not set out to complete the task, I find that after putting in small bits of time, it happens naturally. 



Ask yourself, “I wonder how much I could write in 10 minutes?” (Set a timer!) Write without correcting or thinking about what others will think. You can always go back and edit after the first brain dump. And if writing isn’t your block, just replace “write” with whatever fits for you.

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