Personal deadlines are hereby banished

Freedom!

Freedom!

Five years ago, I  paced my hallway floor, venting to my sweetheart.  I was overwhelmed by my writing workload. I felt inadequate as a wife and mother, completely backward when it came to social situations and I sometimes thought I could drown in a constant flood of paperwork, laundry and dishes.

He spoke as kindly and truthfully then as he always does. “You don’t need to take on so much work if you don’t want to,” he said, and “You don’t need to set deadlines for every project you want to do.”

Okay. I sometimes still feel overwhelmed, but his advice has been stewing on the back burners of my mind for long enough that I think I’m finally getting it.

Here’s how I know: As I wandered through the JoAnn Fabrics store a few weeks ago, I realized I didn’t need to buy materials for a new creative project, no matter how much I love the idea, no matter how great the coupons are. I’d really rather be writing.

Beyond that, my creativity cup already runs over.

My shelves at home are still stocked with half-finished quilts, sewing and needle work projects, crochet and knitting endeavors and a plethora of materials for other hobbies. I used to list them out on a notebook page. (It generally took two columns.)

Of course, sewing and craft projects were only part of the notebook. I also had pages for my writing projects, for landscaping and gardening ideas, for recipes and cooking ideas I meant to try, and on and on and on.

I used these notebook pages to set goals, in every area at once, and all of them had target deadlines.  That was a bad idea. Having set deadlines for myself only increased the stress and pressure I felt, and it sometimes meant I got so frustrated that I gave up completely.

It became a vicious cycle of perfectionism: I’d try, fail, get angry, tell myself I could do better, write even longer, more detailed lists and create more unrealistic goals with even more unreachable deadlines. I set myself up for failure.

Finally, I landed on the idea of a personal level up system where I could focus on the amount of time I spent working on a project rather than on accomplishing a certain number of things each day. Even then, I struggled to focus on just one or two areas at once.

It’s taken some time, but I’m getting better at it. I’ve created some rules for myself to help protect  me from my own perfectionist tendencies.

  • I am to hold the perfect Gwen Bristol in my mind every day–not as something I have to be immediately, but as if I already am the way I intend to be. This is a no-pressure exercise. I mean to savor and enjoy what it feels like to already be there, and I refuse to allow myself to even think about how I get there.
  • Beyond my simple housekeeping routines, I can only focus on three level-up areas each day–and one of those always, always gets to be writing. 🙂 Happiness and Joy!!!
  • In writing, I can work on no more than three projects at a time–this includes writing, editing, publishing, marketing…the whole gamut of what it means to be an author.
  • I will accept deadlines from other people, but no more than three deadline-oriented projects at a time. (If I say no to a request, please understand that it isn’t a permanent no…more than likely, your request will remain in a ‘possible project’ queue for me to get to when I can. This is important to me, because I really do love helping other people. I love it so much that I sometimes let what they want get in the way of other things I’m trying to accomplish. In the long run, that’s not good for anyone.)
  • Where my own projects are concerned, deadlines are hereby banished.

Instead of goals, I’m going to track my progress in a journal. More Writing! Hurrah! I’m hoping this will help me celebrate my successes rather than focus on what I haven’t yet finished.

My theory: If I remove the stress, I’ll actually get more done, in every area of my life, but specifically with my writing works-in-progress. I expect all my priorities to balance out and increase my joy.

So here begins my no-deadline experiment. I’ll try this out and I’ll report on it here on my blog when I have a feel for whether this can work or not.

See how I didn’t create a deadline for myself? See?!? This is going to be a lot of fun. 🙂

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13 Responses to “Personal deadlines are hereby banished”

  1. Good luck. It sounds like no deadlines will mean less stress. Maybe better productivity?

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  2. I’ve recently come to a similar conclusion about my project-lust: I’ve been getting wrapped up in all these creative thingies to do for the last few years, when really I’d rather just be writing. Since it’s my favorite, though, I tend to over-think it and get down on myself for small mistakes, and then I’d look to side projects to make me feel like I was accomplishing something. But I’m actually in the process of paring down my distraction-projects, and it feels great! Jewelry and sewing and crocheting materials are being donated or given away to friends, and I’m instituting a “writing + 1 physical exercise hobby” rule now. Hopefully it works out as well as your deadlines rule has. 🙂 Great post!

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    • I really love the idea of the “writing + 1 physical exercise hobby.” That way you have a true balance between a sedentary hobby and an active hobby. Very smart. 🙂

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  3. Good luck with that. When do you think you will have a feel for weather it is working or not? (just kidding) 🙂

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  4. Gwen, if this works for you, you definitely need to share it with the rest of us perfectionists in the writing world who also do cooking, cleaning, laundry, quilting, knitting, sewing and a plethora of other activities. Maybe you should copyright your idea and then you’d be wealthy enough to have someone do all those other things for you, and you could write 24/7! Just kidding, of course. But seriously, I’m interested if it works for you.

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  5. That husband of yours must be a pretty smart guy. You should always listen to what he has to say. 😀

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