Budget Your Time: How to Use Deadlines


I have forty minutes to write this article. Do I need to limit my time? Probably not, but I’d like to illustrate a point:

Deadlines are useful tools.

Deadlines are a budget for your time. It makes sense that budgeting your money would be more efficient than spending whatever you feel like. A budget forces you to prioritize. Give yourself a limited amount of money and you will use the resources more efficiently than if you buy on impulse.

The same applies when budgeting time. Since time is limited, giving yourself a deadline forces you to prioritize what is most important and cut away what is least.

Ways to Misuse Deadlines

  • Deadlines won’t make you more creative. Creativity is randomness. Just because you want to be a millionaire by the end of the year doesn’t mean setting a deadline will miraculously show you the means to doing so. Deadlines are powerful, but they aren’t magic.
  • Deadlines won’t make you faster. In the short-term, a difficult deadline might speed you up. But this is an illusion. Long periods of that kind of pressure will only result in burnout and stress.
  • Deadlines can slow progress. In some cases, setting a deadline can actually cut you off of solutions that are easier. Deciding that you will finish a website design in two months may cut you off of possibilities for using templates to do it in a few days. Or hiring designers within your budget to do the job for you.

If deadlines won’t make you a genius or dynamo and can actually cut off faster solutions what good are they?

When to Use Deadlines

It’s taken me a bit of practice to know when I should set deadlines for myself and when I should allow results to come naturally. These aren’t specific rules, but they are guidelines I use to make the decision:

  • Feature Creep – Expansive goals need deadlines. I always set deadlines for bigger projects where I could add one feature or twenty.
  • Distractions – Deadlines keep you focused on the objective and away from minutia. If your goal is likely to slip out of your thoughts, use a deadline to force it back in.
  • Fear – What’s the best way to remove a band-aid? Right off! Fear can keep you held hostage for a long time. Setting a deadline forces you through the temporary struggles.
  • Constraints – Some deadlines are natural. If you want to run a marathon and your city holds one in four months, that deadline makes perfect sense.
  • Push – Are you slowing down? Setting a new deadline can rebuild falling motivation.

Attributes of a Good Deadline

  • Objective – Have you reached your goal? If the answer can’t be answered with either yes or no, you need to rephrase it. Vague goals are useless candidates for deadlines.
  • Possible – Does your deadline fit your plan or is it wishful thinking? Don’t buy groceries on an empty stomach on don’t set deadlines when drunk with motivation.
  • Elimination – Can you eliminate parts of your plan if there isn’t time? You need to know what to abandon if you run out of time.
  • Chunked – Break your deadline into components. For this article, I’ve given myself forty minutes to write and ten to do an image.

Be thrifty with your time because you can’t save it or buy any more.

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