As Long As It Takes

I’m going to admit something to you today.  Something I’d appreciate if you never mention to my agent or editor (if, indeed, I should ever have one).

I hate deadlines.

Seriously.  I’m not one of those people who performs better under pressure.  I remember being seventeen and having a lying-on-the-floor, can’t-even-breathe-right-now kind of breakdown because I had a major journalism deadline, an upcoming test, and my grandmother was coming into town.  I’m sure there was more going on than that, as that was still a stage in my life where I had not yet learned that it was okay to tell people “no” when they asked me to do something.  But the point is, I crack when I feel overwhelmed.  It’s not cute.

I’ve read a lot about goal setting over the years, and, being both Type A and ADD, I must admit that I’m much better at goal setting than at goal keeping.  I never seem to find a system that quite works for me.

My goals always had a plan.  What did I want to achieve?  How did I want to do it?  What were my next steps?  I’d often make charts or spreadsheets, detailing out exactly how I intended to attack this new goal.  Then you just follow the plan, right?

Wrong.

If you’ve been alive for more than 10 minutes, you’ve probably already experienced that life often looks at your plans, nods approvingly, then tosses you a curveball and says, “Nope, we’re doing this today.”  And every time it did, my whole beautiful choreography of a plan would fall apart.  But the biggest thing that unraveled would always be the deadline.  Whatever timeframe I had set to accomplish this project would suddenly shrink and crunch until it felt way too tight.  There was no way I was going to make it.  I might as well give up now and lie on the couch binge-watching TV so that I wouldn’t have to think about how I had failed.  Again.

Cue drama queen moment here.

In all seriousness though, I started thinking about this the last time I started planning to set some new goals for editing my book.  And I realized something rather profound.

It doesn’t matter when I finish, as long as I do.

Every deadline I’ve ever set for finishing this novel, all those broken plans lying on the floor, and none of them really mattered.  All my dates were arbitrary, because the truth is: no one is waiting for this.  (With the exception of some extremely patient friends who I thank profoundly for sticking with me.)

When I realized that, I took the deadline element off, and just changed my goal to spend time editing every week.  The specific actions and aspirations can change over time, and they already have.  Some weeks I sprint towards my goal, some weeks it’s more of a stumble.  But every week that I stay true to the goal of working on my novel brings me a little bit closer to actually being finished.  And the best part is, I’m not stressed out about it anymore.

Instead of sitting down with my book feeling anxious or panicked, I’m relaxed and ready for wherever that day’s work might take me.  And I never get the feeling that I can’t make my goal, because I’m in no rush, and every time I work on it I can see myself moving towards it, rather than feeling like it’s closing in on me.  That’s a much better feeling.

Do you find that you thrive under the pressure of a deadline or does it stress you out?

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