Some people thrive on deadlines. Other people find them overwhelming. It’s important to know which you are, so that you know how to handle them, because deadlines are a part of modern life.

I do pretty well with deadlines for the most part. I get more done when I have a deadline in mind. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to put things off. I usually create a timeline, break things into smaller tasks, and give each task a deadline of its own. That’s when things work well.

The problem I have with deadlines occurs when I have too many at once or too many things happening at the same time as the deadline. At that point, I feel overwhelmed and the deadline becomes demotivating. I start procrastinating and putting off even thinking about the deadline. Nothing gets done at all. As I miss the smaller deadlines, the work piles up and becomes even more overwhelming. I can usually push through and get things done last minute, but the work quality is low and I hate every minute.

When I have outside deadlines, I try to compensate for this possible problem by giving myself an earlier deadline and build a timeline to make that work. I try to sneak in small tasks as often as I can, so that I don’t put them off. That way, I have extra time to convince myself to complete everything if things go crazy partway through. I also plan in a lot of bribery. It helps to imagine how nice it will be to get everything done early and be done without any last minute craziness.

Personal deadlines are trickier. I know that they are self-imposed and there is no penalty for not completing them. It’s easy to let the deadline go when there are so many other things to do. Some measure of outside accountability helps. That’s how I haven’t missed a day posting on this website, or how I have daily sketches in my sketchbook, even if I don’t always work on either one every day. There is strength in meeting other people’s expectations or “not missing a day,” at least on paper.

I have been thinking about this recently after talking to Kathy Decker about some of her personal deadlines and how that helps her create larger works of art. It seems like such a big step to go from spending a half hour or an hour on an illustration to spending days and days on a painting. Would giving my self a deadline like joining a scheduled amateur art show or creating a Christmas card to send out each year help? I don’t know.

I’d like to start to work on bigger things. I just need to make sure that when I’m ready, the deadlines will be motivating and not demotivating. I think it may take some planning.

How do you feel about deadlines? How do you motivate yourself when you’re running out of time? How do you motivate yourself to work on larger projects?