Imagine that during a normal week, you set goals and deadlines that assume you’ll be able to do, say, 10 units of creative work. And that, during a normal week, you actually get 4 units of creative work done.
Imagine that during light weeks, you set goals and deadlines that you’ll be able to do, say, 6 units of creative work. And that, during those light weeks, you actually get 4 units of creative work done.
Under this scenario, it’s easy to see that the goals and deadlines aren’t doing anything besides stressing you out. Set all the deadlines and goals you want, but it’s the 4 units of creative work that matters.
Let’s call those 4 units of creative work your red line. When it comes to getting stuff done, it’s the only line that really matters. Those goals and deadlines just become the tools of judgment you use to condemn yourself and worry needlessly.
Now, let’s bring this to the real world: do you know what your red line is? Or are you assessing your effectiveness based upon some abstract plan that assumes you can get 10 units of creative work done when, in fact, you can only do four?
When we’re honest with ourselves, most of us lose a lot of time, energy, and attention because our performance didn’t track the plan instead of trying to make the plan track our performance.
Build from the red line, not the deadline. (Tweet this.)
If you’re looking for additional support on working through your goals, deadlines and red lines, The Academy is the community for you. Learn more today!
Al Pittampalli says
You’re right Charlie. When it comes to my writing, I always seem to overestimate what I’m able to accomplish. This causes a lot of stress. Knowing how we work and our limits is crucial to making an effective plan that works. Still though, sometimes those imminent deadlines, and seemingly unreasonable goals stretch us, and pull the very best out of us. I think the key is knowing how and when to use either approach.
Megan Elizabeth Morris says
Stephanie Lomond Merrill says
For me, it is essential to measure my productivity on a weekly basis by breaking it down into tasks; I call my weekly to-do list a session. Then I assign points to each task, and as I complete each one–I award myself the total number of points I feel I have honestly earned. What ultimately works best for me is attaching each of the tasks on my list to a core value–an area of my life or work that holds great importance. By following this approach, I feel a stronger sense of achievement at the end of each week.
You also raise an important point: being honest with ourselves about how much we are able to get done within a defined period of time. It’s all about quality, not quantity–and getting more of the right things done!
Anne Emberline says
For the longest time, I used to think, “Okay, if I’m serious about this project, I should be able to do 8 hours a day on it.”
I got nothing done like that. My creative work only exploded into productivity when I finally gave up on that bullcrap idea and said, “Fine, I can only do an hour. I might get nothing done, but that’s all I can do.”
I was working on a novel at the time, and the second draft (which was 80% rewrite) practically wrote itself in that hour a day. Totally epic! I swear by it now.
So yep, I agree, you have to be honest with yourself about what your limits are with productivity and creative energy. And you certainly need to have the self-acceptance to work within those limits and not feel bad about it, even if “other people” can do more.
Thanks for the post.
Thea | Write Change Grow says
I totally agree with you on this one. I have been falling victim of setting unrealistic deadlines for myself lately and then stressing because I am not living up to them. Thank you for reminding me I need to build from the red line.
Shanna Mann says
Would you believe this is the first time I realized that I can only do 3-4 hours of creative work a day? Unbelievable. All this time I thought it was just a matter of budgeting my time and energy better….
Megan Elizabeth Morris says
Same thing’s been happening to me — it’s unnerving. It seems like I went through most of my life assuming all kinds of work were the same, maybe because the kind of work we did in school was always so very standardized. It’s been a bit of a struggle to really recognize that there’s a limit to really high quality creative output over the course of the day, and that not only is that *okay*, but it results in *better* creative output long-term. Kind of blows my mind!
Shanna Mann says
Exactly! I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong to be so consistently frayed even when ideas were flowing freely. It was like noon was this wall, past which no real work could pass… Always, always I faltered. Huh. Shouldn’t somebody tell you about this earlier? All this time I thought 8 hours was like a minimum or something.
I have been struggling with this topic a lot lately, and wondering how the heck did I budget my time so well when I was in school a fews years ago as a full-time student and mom? Two classes, building a new business, immediate and extended family, and non-profit board responsibilities do take time, and will not follow a strict timeline – which I found out in regards to a new business name, and then a physical injury…. I felt I was so far behind, because I was missing nearly every deadline I was setting for myself. That is until yesterday when I had lunch with a local colleague and friend. She said she is always so impressed with how how much I get done and how effective I am. Goes to show you that the view from the outside may not be that which we are telling ourselves!
In Twyla–speak I take projects that have no inrsteet to me (even important sounding ones) and box them up, perhaps coming back to them later to plunder or rework. The thrill is gone, so why pretend it’s as important as I thought it was? It certainly hasn’t led me to fame and fortune but at least I have a shorter list of things I think I am committed to.The deadline itself is important though. Most (all?) of Twyla’s work has a very firm deadline. I’m quite envious. For those of us who do not have performance based creations perhaps it’s a matter of defining the goal and creating a reasonable deadline based on it …a series of projects that add up to the whole thing. I think sometimes my next actions are really projects and my projects are really goals. Thus some of my goals are actually life plans.