Repair your relationship to deadlines

What’s your relationship to “deadlines”? Do you work well by giving yourself due dates, or do you avoid it and prefer to “go with the flow”?

Either way can work. Understand your choice, and be accepting of whatever consequences occur as a result.

If you go with the flow, then be accepting that you may never meet your pre-determined goals… that your goals may constantly change based on your internal whims, or life’s external demands.

On the other hand, if you want to set a vision / have goals and achieve them, then you need to have a good relationship with deadlines, especially the ones you set for yourself. Call it due dates, milestones, deadlines, lifelines, or any other word or phrase that energizes you.

Consider 3 ways of being:

1. Go with the flow.

This way can work well if you are already financially secure, and don’t need to achieve specific results. Accept whatever comes with just going with the flow.

Many artists prefer this way… but usually they need to deal with a lack of material/creature comforts.

Just know this: if you aren’t going to be predictable, you can’t expect others to be reliable to you. Neither expect Life to give you want you want. You’ll need to learn to completely flow with whatever comes.

Total acceptance is a profound spiritual practice.

2. Scheduled Performance.

Many successful people work in this way. Think of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian athlete of all time. When he was practicing and competing, just about every waking moment was completely scheduled, whether it was practice, or rest, or meals. Everything was regimented, so that he could optimize his time and life energy for the best athletic performance possible.

The same goes with people who are financially successful: they usually have their work day scheduled down to the minute.

3. Scheduled Flow.

This is what I aim for…

I live by a schedule everyday, except for ever Saturday, and other additional days off.

I look at my calendar throughout the day, and do whatever I have in my calendar.

Here’s the difference: Whenever I do the tasks I’ve scheduled, I just go with the flow of the task, and aim to enjoy the work itself, rather than force myself to perform.

Not that I’m perfect at always doing this, but is a practice I keep coming back to, again and again. I do the work for its sake, and practice mindfulness and joyfulness within the work, no matter how the results turn out.

This is how I’m writing this blog post now. I have a deadline that I need to write and poste this by 9am. Am I nervous, anxious, and “hustling”? I’ve practiced just letting my fingers flow, and whatever words decide to come out (based on a theme I pre-set), and I edit lightly, is what you’ll end up reading :)

I’m inspired by this passage from the Bhagavad Gita:

“To action alone has thou a right, and never at all to its fruits;

Let not the fruits of action be thy motive;

Neither let there be in thou any attachment to inaction….

Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty,

For by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”

The key is that I stay with the task. I don’t allow myself to get distracted and “go with the flow” in terms of changing tasks.

I stay with what I said I would do. It’s just that the attitude and spirit with which I work in the moment is different than how most people seem to work.

I’m not afraid of making mistakes, because I don’t have a set performance result that I must achieve.

Granted, I am much more able to do this because I am a solopreneur. I get to decide what work product is adequate. I’m not having to please anyone… not even myself, because I care more about the process than the “perfection” of the result.

However, even if you have a job and need to produce results for your boss, there is a great benefit in learning to flow with the task, rather than obsess about the results.

From the book “The Practicing Mind” by Thomas Sterner:

“We become fixated on our intended goal and completely miss out on the joy present in the process of achieving it. We erroneously think that there is a magical point that we will reach and then we will be happy. We look at the process of getting there as almost a necessary nuisance we have to go through in order to get to our goal.”

“It’s a paradox. When you focus on the process, the desired product takes care of itself with fluid ease. When you focus on the product, you immediately begin to fight yourself and experience boredom, restlessness, frustration, and impatience with the process.

The reason for this is not hard to understand. When you focus your mind on the present moment, on the process of what you are doing right now, you are always where you want to be and where you should be. All your energy goes into what you are doing.

However, when you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are, and you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing.”

“This awareness of being where you are and in the present gives you the constant positive reinforcement of reaching your goal over and over again.

However, when your mind is only on the finished product, not only do you feel frustrated in every second that you have not met that goal, but you experience anxiety in every “mistake” you make while practicing. You view each mistake as a barrier, something delaying you from realizing your goal and experiencing the joy that reaching that goal is going to give you.”

So we are repairing our relationship with deadlines by reframing what “mistakes” are. They are a learning opportunity as we aim for a goal, but whether we achieve the goal or not, we value the process and the learning more.

Ironically by doing this, we tend to achieve better results anyway, but let us not focus on that. Whether the results are “good” or not, the question is whether the process was good? Were we mindful, did we enjoy the work, was it compassionate, or aligned with our values?

If you’re going to avoid deadlines and due dates, and want to go the folow, then be fully accepting that Life will give you whatever It wants to, sometimes demanding of you things you don’t feel like doing but have to, to stay alive (or out of prison!)

Instead, why won’t we create a new and healthier relationship to deadlines?

Let’s set goals and deadlines (or lifelines) as our compass, and yet, journey joyfully. Work towards them with a playful experimentation and curiosity, valuing most the learning and the moment-by-moment process.

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