How to get things done? Slap a deadline to it.

A blank canvas. I adore a blank canvas. Anything can be crafted out of it. When I sit down to write something, for the few moments before I write down the first word, I stare at the blank canvas sitting in front of me.

A blank canvas means I can carve out anything of it. Just before starting to write this blog post, I sat and looked at the blank document for about 10 minutes.


“Deadlines kill creativity”.

I’ve heard about it a lot but is it really true? Of course, you cannot tell someone to be at their creative best at any particular time. It just doesn’t work that way. But does putting a deadline to something really kill the creativity for the task? Let’s find out.

I believed that it does kill creativity until a couple of weeks ago - when the lack of deadlines started to mean “it’s not done”. I decided to ponder over it and started wondering how do we decide on things to be done.

I stumbled upon this graph in my research. It is called Eisenhower Box, and is a graph between importance and urgency of a task.

important-urgent-graph

Here’s what the graph is all about. A task always has two factors attached to it - importance and urgency, and based upon these two factors, we decide what to do about it.

  • Important and Urgent: These things should be done right away. For example, house on fire, studying a night before the exam.
  • Important but Not Urgent: These things should be properly scheduled to be done later. For example, exercising, learning a new skill.
  • Not Important but Urgent: These things can be delegated to someone else. For example, someone else’s urgent deadline, meetings.
  • Not Important and Not Urgent: You can live without doing them. For example, watching “The Big Bang Theory”, going to the Knicks game.

The graph is meant to teach us how to prioritize things, but I see that we (probably unknowingly) already follow half of it. We already know what to do with the important stuff. We already do the important and urgent things right away. And also, we already schedule the important but not urgent things for later.

The Line

Although the two boxes are totally separated by a thick line in the graph, but in reality, there’s a very thin line between these two. And I have a name for that thin line - The Deadline.

deadline

Just think about it. When does something important becomes urgent? Only when it is due in some time. After all, that is the whole point of something being urgent. Something being urgent itself means it has to be done quickly otherwise something bad will/might happen.

You cannot delay when your house is on fire. You cannot delay to study (if not already done) if you have to take the exam following morning. You cannot delay the payment of your medical insurance when it is due tonight.

You cannot delay to take care of your baby when she is already crying.

Just because a thing is due in some time, it makes it urgent and thus makes us to prioritize it high on our to-do list (or doing it immediately without putting it on the list first).

So, if a deadline makes something urgent, what does the lack of it causes? Guess. The lack of a deadline keeps the thing lying in “Important but Not Urgent” box and the default action to be performed on that box is to schedule it for later.

It is called scheduling when done for the first time, beyond that, it is called postponing.

The String

The “Important but Not Urgent” box comes with a string attached. The string is that the things in this box should be scheduled, but the term “scheduling” is not understood properly by most of us.

Scheduling means putting a date on it when it will be promoted to the “Important and Urgent” box, not when it can be re-scheduled to be further re-scheduled.

Deadlines might kill creativity, but it get things done.

Takeaway

The one thing you may want to take away from this is if you want something to be done, slap a deadline to it. Everything without a deadline will stay in the box where everything will happen to it but getting it done.


Coming back to me staring at the blank canvas. I could stare at it for much longer waiting to get in my creative zone. But only when I decided to be done with this post by 1pm, I was able to do it (okay, I am 5 minutes late, but it's done).

And no matter how beautiful a blank canvas looks, a filled canvas looks much more beautiful and meaningful. No?

comments powered by Disqus