Get Unstuck with an Evil Deadline

Use evil deadlines to get unstuck

For the past six months, I’ve had one ridiculously easy project stuck on my big-ass to-do list: select 100 good Cambodia photos (from over 1,000), upload them to Flickr and order prints. During weekly reviews I would look at this item on my big-ass to-do list, nod, debate its importance, think about the magnitude of the task, shudder, and go on to the next list.

However, I have a family reunion coming up soon and I’ve received emails from several folks who want to see travel photos.

All of a sudden, I have a reason to finish this slow-moving, brain-eating task and a deadline for doing so. I gave myself three days to pick out the highlights and order prints.

With one day to spare, I uploaded and tagged the last of my Cambodia photos (check them out) and even went on to sort through another 2,000+ travel photos. Talk about a relief. I shudder now not from the actual difficulty of the task but from the amount of time and mental energy I used imagining how difficult this would actually be.

How did I get unstuck? I used an Evil Deadline!

The only difference between a deadline and an evil deadline is this: a regular deadline won’t rend your flesh from your limbs and eat you alive if you don’t finish.

Seriously, though, having an evil deadline just means means planning to finish something within one to three days. Evil deadlines don’t give you the time to second-guess or mentally weasel your way out of something. Write down your task and deadline on an index card, tape it to your keyboard/wall/hand, and do the damn task.  That’s it.

This works best with one of those projects where you’ve already got the materials together, you know what you need to do and have a rough idea of how to do it…but you just haven’t put the time in yet.

This probably wouldn’t work so well with something still in the planning stages, or any kind of ongoing project. For the former, you’d need to know your steps. For the latter, rather than say ‘finish the whole thing,’ just break the big part down into component/sub-parts and set evil mini-deadliness for them.

For more caveats, check out this excellent post called The Uses and Abuses of Setting Deadlines.

Why are evil deadlines effective?

Evil deadlines are effective because they put a real, tangible limit on how much time you can spend putting off a task. When you’ve got projects you want to finish but no pressing, external force pushing you to finish them, it’s really easy to ignore them. To put them off. To procrastinate. And all this leads to getting stuck.

And when you have spare time, whether fifteen minutes or two hours, you can’t just sit there and not work on your stuck project…you have an  evil deadline to meet. And if you don’t, zombies will eat you.

Setting deadlines takes some discipline, but when you resign yourself to the fact that you have to finish something by a certain time, it becomes that much easier. Maybe this has something to do with eliminating the tyranny of choice.

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