To begin, a fantastic Calvin and Hobbes comic that has stuck with me through the years.
School taught me how motivating a deadline can be, but only within a certain temporal distance from said deadline. There were many assignments that would not have been completed to any degree without a deadline, since so many assignments had very little motivation, interest, or inspiration within themselves. Hence an external factor was required to get me moving.
This has long been an issue for me. When an idea strikes, or I am lucky enough to be working on something that grabs my attention, I can attack it with fury and be very pleased with the product, even if little to no revision is performed. Yet the majority of the time I found myself in a position where an assignment had little residual value (beyond the points earned toward a grade), and was on a topic that I had little passion for. This is certainly not a problem unique to me and my experience. I feel fortunate that there were any assignments I felt I could proactive in working on. During my time working as a TA and a tutor, it can be hard to find motivation for many students.
This piece of writing is not about those kids, nor about how assignments could better be determined in school to allow kids to really enjoy them. I wish to focus on deadlines. More specifically, how they affect me now that I am not in school.
While I have not started my full-time job yet, I have been working as a contractor with the same company. When I first began soon after my internship ended, things were fairly casual. I would put in a few hours every few days when I had the time, and I enjoyed it for the most part. Aspects of the work can be tedious, but there were times when I was assigned to work on puzzles of some variety, and those remained engaging.
As the semester wore on, I became worse at finding the time to sit down and get a good amount of work done. This soon bled over into the following semester, as I began working more earnestly on my thesis (and had other classes with a bit more busy work than the previous semester.) All of a sudden it was March, and I had an email informing me that some of the work really needed to be done by the end of April. I had let some things go, but was able to make good progress. Until a large project was put on my plate, which happened to coincide with a landmark time for my thesis as well as other homework and a project for my classes.
This deadline motivated me to work hard on everything, with an intense amount of focus. I made it through, but ultimately had to give up some of the contract work so that I could accomplish everything in school. Now that I am done with school, I am realizing how unhealthy my balance was at times. I often pretended I had things very under control (and truthfully I did at times), yet I neglected to acknowledge when I had put too many things off and couldn’t balance it all. I did not seek the help I needed. I would burn myself out near some deadlines, causing me to ricochet the other way and not get anything done for some period of time. It is good to understand this, and work toward finding other motivation to get work done other than last-minute panic. I don’t have this sorted out, but I am working on it.
Between my two podcasts, Operation: Have a Conversation and Comical Start, as well as this website and wanting to read books, I have projects for myself which require deadlines if they are to get done. I have the impression there are certain creative people who can continually work (in some fashion) without much break. They are teeming with new ideas, and a passion to turn them into the medium of their choice. They act on these desires, and some fantastic works are made as a result.
I fancy myself a creative person sometimes, who enjoys writing, reading, and podcasting (now that I’ve gotten the hang of it.) Yet I do not feel I have the intrinsic motivation to sit down and work on things. If you look at the archive of this website, I would have passionate spurts of writing, interspersed with three or more months of nothing being produced. In some way (though partially due to time constraints) you can see this pattern in OHAC as well. This is why I set up a defined schedule a few weeks ago, and also removed the connection this website had with Facebook. I want the deadlines to be set by me, and followed by me, to improve how I work with them.
I work well within a system having some loose constraints. These constraints must make sense to me, and so I set them up myself. I am still struggling with how to properly enforce rules on myself, when I am all three branches of this personal government. But it is a trial in self-discipline, something I will need if I determine I want to continue into grad school, or maybe even work for myself some day doing a combination of many things. That is why I write some of these posts. They usually are not my best writing, but they are always on topics I care about. It keeps me going, no excuses allowed. While I am not Stephen King, writing 4-6 hours alone each day, I am doing things I enjoy and keeping myself active. That is important to me.
As I go forward, deadlines will always be something I need to worry about, enforce, and live with. But they don’t need to be a burden. For me, they are an incredibly useful tool that keeps me accountable, even when they are for things I truly care about. Some people don’t need this motivation, and that is good to know as well. Create a system that works for you. It takes time, trial and error, but it can be done for everybody.
Inspiration and Motivation
I have not been consistent when talking about deadlines in terms of motivation and inspiration. Yet I reflexively titled this post Inspirational Deadlines. Are deadlines actually inspirational, as compared to simply being motivational? And what is the difference between these two?
First, I do think that deadlines can be inspiring. They put the brain in a different configuration, forcing connections that may never be made otherwise. This is often a thought experiment I put to myself when writing, or even doing math homework. Had I been doing this at a different place, at a different time (if I hadn’t chosen to come to the library, if I were on my laptop instead of my desktop) would this all happen very differently? Are these sentences a result of coming back to this article a day later, instead of pushing on? One common factor I can find when looking back at my writing is that what I write under pressure is tangibly different. There is a different inspiration there. The language I use when my passion boils over (see my Election posts) is vastly different from what I may write when I feel there is a time crunch.
Despite all this, other than this little essay, deadlines are not inspirational in and of themselves. I believe they are more of a vehicle to make connections. This is very dependent on the person though. Some people shut down when they are overwhelmed by what they must do by some day, while others work significantly harder to get it all done (even if it is impossible.) So it is important to know how this works for you, and what truly motivates you and gets those neurons firing.
I remember reading a story about a budding writer who entered an MFA program in creative writing. They essentially failed out because they had nothing they felt they could write about. They took a step back, and moved to medical school (where their parents wanted them) and suddenly the stories flowed, and they are now a successful writer. If this is you, take advantage of you. Go for a breadth of experience in unrelated things, and inspiration may strike. That’s part of the fun.