There are real deadlines at work and in life:

  • Projects need to be launched
  • Registrations have hard dates
  • Tasks have to be completed

Many times, though, we are operating from false deadlines we have set for ourselves.

Do our deadlines have more flexibility than we realize?

A client of mine had a choice: she had 30 minutes before her next meeting. She wanted to do something that would lead to longer-term benefits that weren’t as tangible at that moment.

Her mind told her, “You must complete this other task.” She didn’t even question that voice. Did that task need to be done? Absolutely. Could it have been done in a different 30-minute window that day? Yes.

Would it put her behind if that task wasn’t completed until the next day? No. Did she come back to the longer-term task that she was ready for at the moment? No.

It got put on the back burner—all due to a self-imposed deadline. 

Does right now really exist?

Sound familiar? There are some items that we say we “have to complete right now,” but that isn’t always true. 

Yes, we need to break down tasks into meaningful bites. Goals are good and motivate us. Yes, stretch projects can benefit us in many ways, both personally and professionally. First, however, we need to take the time to evaluate this deadline and examine it.

Is it an actual deadline with real consequences, or is this pressure we are feeling coming from somewhere else? Is this deadline real or self-imposed?

Evaluate all the pressures you are putting on yourself for deadlines

  • Is this deadline set? Who set it? 
  • What is the purpose of this project/task/item? 
  • Is it in alignment with what is most important to you right now? Some people use the “R” in the SMART goal format to indicate realism. Others use the “R” to demonstrate relevance. Look at your deadline through the lens of relevance. Is the task still relevant to essential things in your life, career, and leadership right now? 
  • Are there people counting on you to complete the task? 
  • What conversations do you need to have with yourself or others?
  • In saying yes to this deadline, what are you saying no to?

In the end, the deadline might stay the same. You may still choose to complete the task at hand. However, the outlook/perspective on this item, task, or project should be. After reflecting on it, hopefully, it will lose some of the power it has over you or break the unconscious automatic cycle.

Then you can consciously choose how you want to proceed.