Friends and colleagues often ask me how it is that I found the time to write 13 books while building an Inc. 500 business, advising, speaking, teaching, and raising two kids. Although I'd love to provide some sort of deep and profound answer about how I'm inspired to write, how it's my passion, how I love to learn, or how my overactive brain needs to periodically purge itself, the truth isn't nearly as profound.
Not that passion and inspiration are to be trivialized-- far from it-- but they alone are like what flour and water are to bread making; necessary but insufficient without yeast.
Let's face it, everyone wants to believe that they have passion, vision, and inspiration, and many do. But what many of these same people lack is an otherwise mundane and overlooked driver of all achievements, great and small, personal and professional: the inglorious deadline.
Why Deadlines Matter
Without a deadline, the time for any task expands to fill the time allowed, which often means an ever expanding time horizon. That's especially risky for entrepreneurs who usually have more ideas than they have time and who believe that given enough time they can figure out just about anything.
Combine that with how we often we all buy into the illusions that we somehow have infinite time ahead of us and you start to see why deadlines are so critical. In fact, the more creative you are the more critical they become.
You want to write that book, build that company, create that product, paint that canvas, fly that plane, sail that ocean--whatever it is, I really don't care how much talent or inspiration you've got going for you. If you do not give yourself an immutable deadline it just won't happen.
We're lulled into complacency by the fact that we've experienced the same pattern for our entire life; namely, that today followed yesterday, so why wouldn't tomorrow follow today? It will, but to be blunt, you just may not be there to experience it.
We all know brilliant people with great ideas and yet, they simply can't seem to get anything done. I've found that there are two types of people in the world; those who run towards finish lines and those who hide from them.
Deadlines are sacred. They are the catalysts that turn ideas into reality. Self-help author Napolean Hill said it best, "A goal is a dream with a deadline." And, at least in my experience, those deadlines which appear to be the most unreasonable come with the grandest dreams and the greatest rewards.
It reminds me of an iconic scene in the movie Apollo XIII in which NASA engineers are racing to beat the clock and save the three astronauts when their carbon dioxide scrubber in the lunar module needs a filter replacement. The scene shows the brilliant NASA engineers standing over a pile of the materials available to the astronauts as they are told to figure out how they can creatively build a CO2 scrubber from them.
They only have minutes to solve the problem. Any solution after the CO2 reaches a critical level may work marvelously, but it would be useless since the point was not to just solve the problem but to solve it in time to save the astronauts. I can imagine that there was at least one engineer who had a perfect solution if they could just get the astronauts to hold their breath for another 30 minutes.
There are many people who, like that engineer, will always try to renegotiate the deadline. I've encountered far too many of them. They find one excuse after another to avoid a deadline; they're all good excuses, and somehow they never seem to run out of them.
When you're nearing a finish line, you've got a choice; you can dig deep, get creative and give it everything you've got, knowing you could have done better if you had longer, or you can just throw up your hands and curse the finish line. I've got news for you, finish lines don't care either way.
Deadlines work in creating discipline but only if you make them public, contractual, and otherwise immovable. They bind you to a commitment to others who depend on you and who trust in you. Break a deadline and you're breaking that trust. Don't make your deadline a hope or an objective, make your deadline unyielding, unforgiving, and unfeeling--cold as steel and just as hard.
The brutal truth is that at the end of the day the world won't wait for you to feel ready, to be creative enough, or to find the time. Waiting for just the right time, as the saying goes, is just waiting for a new excuse to show up.
Deadlines and Flexibility
Yes, I know what you're thinking, "But what if I really am not done and failure is certain if I stick to the deadline?" I never said that a deadline will assure success. There are cases when making a well-informed decision to miss a deadline is the most prudent option. Deadlines don't obviate good judgment. However, ignoring deadlines and making regular excuses for why you can't meet them is a damn good assurance of failure.
In addition, unlike the Apollo XIII example, the vast majority of deadlines are negotiated well ahead of time and, as with any contract, you go into it with eyes wide open and with the clear knowledge that there are penalties for failing to deliver what you signed up for. I get that unreasonable deadlines are often thrust upon us and that they are not always what we would have chosen. The time to renegotiate that isn't in the final lap but when you agreed to be bound by it.
Still, there are times when you don't get to chose where the finish line is going to be drawn. But that's what sets you apart; you run the race anyway. While others may make excuses you double down. You're in good company. You'd be hard pressed to talk to any entrepreneur who didn't attribute some significant measure of his or her success to meeting unreasonable deadlines--repeatedly.
One last thing, when you reach your deadline reward yourself. Finish lines are a time for celebration. Treat yourself for having had the courage to draw a line in indelible ink, running towards it at full throttle, and then crossing it when you said you would. There's a thrill in that; it's the adreniline of achievement.