When There Is No Deadline

clocks spinning around

I frequently hear people say that they work well under pressure. As a deadline nears, they kick into gear and “get it done,” often in the final hours.

Unfortunately, many of the things we wish to do in life don’t come with deadlines. Pursuits that fall into this category include:

  • Getting into shape
  • Organizing a home/office
  • Developing a skill
  • Learning a language
  • Getting a new/better job
  • Eating healthier
  • Quitting a bad habit
  • Improving work/life balance

Often, we greatly desire to do something, but in the absence of a firm deadline, we fail to follow through. Furthermore, we may admire or envy other people’s self discipline and internalize a sense of failure or worthlessness.

Rather than beat yourself up, it is wise to acknowledge that everyone has both strengths and weaknesses. Each of us finds some things to be easy and others to be more difficult. Achieving goals often comes down to identifying “areas for growth” in our lives, and then putting systems and tools in place to help us overcome any hurdles.

For those who struggle with motivation and self-accountability, the key is to add an external pressure where one does not naturally exist. Introducing an outside motivator provides both a payoff for success and a consequence for inaction.

There are a few ways to do this…

Designate an Accountability Partner

  • Ask someone to hold you accountable to take specific action
  • Grant this person permission to check in with you at specific intervals
  • Offer specific questions you wish to be asked
  • Meet regularly face-to-face (FaceTime or Skype also work)

Payoff=> Delivering a positive report, external validation and affirmation

Consequence for Inaction=> Awkwardness, letting someone else down 

Join an Outside Group

  • Take a class
  • Sign up for lessons
  • Attend a webinar or lecture
  • Join a support group

Payoff=> new skills, concrete direction, encouragement

Consequence for Inaction=> Peer pressure, wasted time

Invest in Professional Help

  • Life coach
  • Professional organizer
  • Personal trainer
  • Nutritionist
  • Weight loss program
  • Secretary
  • Virtual assistant
  • Accountant
  • Headhunter

Payoff=> Outside motivation, direction and encouragement

Consequence for Inaction=> Wasted money

Reward Yourself

  • Designate rewards for progress made
  • Focus on small steps rather than an end goal

Payoff=> Enjoying something special

Consequence for Inaction=> Denying yourself something you would like

*     *     *     *    *

It is both common and normal to need a push to get moving, even toward ends we truly desire. Adult life is frequently so full of “musts” that we lack the time and energy to invest in anything that isn’t required. In addition, venturing beyond the familiar and known is uncomfortable, rendering us timid and fearful of failure.

Fortunately, in areas where inherent deadlines or pressures do not exist, we can artificially establish structure to nudge us forward.

Have any of these techniques helped you achieve a goal?

28 thoughts on “When There Is No Deadline”

    1. Having someone exercise with me twice a week has been very helpful in helping me keep the commitment. When my friend cancels, I frequently don’t follow through on my own. We can all use a little “nudge,” right?

  1. And all of these things require time. Regardless of which method we choose, we must schedule the time — and possibly give something up that we are currently spending time on — in order for it to happen. Seana, have you read Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin? If not, you might be interested in comparing your methods with her Four Tendencies. (Some methods work better for some than for others, and the Tendencies explain why.)
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…The Basic Genealogy ChecklistMy Profile

    1. Yes, yes, yes.. allocate the time. Clients often tell me they have a tough time getting motivated to clear clutter. I say, “I specialize in motivation” because I know that me showing up on the doorstep is a pretty good reason to follow through! I love Gretchen, but I don’t think I’ve read that book. I will check it out! We all do have different tendencies, and some techniques will work better than others depending on our proclivities.

  2. This is so true. I hear that quite often when going through a list of wants with my clients. I am a big believer in partnering with a friend. Working out a deal where one person helps the other towards a stated goal and then the other person reciprocates. This is sort of like having an accountability partner. Sometimes, though, the stated ‘want to’ is really not very important or time sensitive and so gets put off until the person decides to make it important.

    1. The ‘want to’ with no deadline is the hardest. In many cases, no one besides the individual is invested in achievement of the goal. Life is so busy and stressful that these are the things we typically put off. Hazel commented that we need to set aside the time, which is definitely another key ingredient. Partnering with another has helped me in a couple of areas, so I am a true believer!

  3. I love what you said about everyone having strengths and weaknesses. This is so true. We can focus on strengthening our strengths and also enlisting help in the areas that we’re not as strong. Either way, to do that requires investment in time, self, and sometimes money. If the desire for change and the clarity around why you want the change are there, it makes it easier to find the path forward.

    Another factor I’ve noticed is that when you activate towards the “yes, I’m going to do this mode,” something happens in the brain. It’s like an on switch flips. The obstacles seem to lessen and the path forward seems to come into focus.

    When we’re in the “I can’t” mode, it’s like we’ve put a huge STOP sign up in our minds. We’re stuck. We’ve shut down our creative thinking.

    The tips you’ve suggested around activating are terrific…there’s something for everyone.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…Focus On Spring’s Unparalleled Gifts and Allow Next to BlossomMy Profile

    1. I agree that sometimes you just feel mentally ready to start. I have a friend who calls it being “in the mood.” Once you are in the mood, your psyche is on board and you make progress. Outside resources can really be helpful, whether you need help to start, or to keep going for the duration.

  4. Thanks, Seana. These tips are very helpful suggestions on ways to get those no deadline goals completed.

    I find that partnering up with someone works best for me. However, the same person doesn’t necessarily work to help achieve all the goals. It’s OK to get different partners for the different goals.

    1. Excellent point! No single person should be your accountability partner for everything. That could create too much pressure on the relationship. No friend wants to be a nag:)

  5. I’m terrible with deadlines and therefore often have trouble reaching my goals! What a great post – not only with helpful tips and ideas, but encouragement as well. I find that having accountability really can make a difference to help you reach your dreams. I’m not the best at self-reward and self-accountability, so I tend to need external help in that area. Thanks for the post and the support 🙂
    Liana George recently posted…How to Tame Your Toppling T-ShirtsMy Profile

    1. I love this comment! Accountability partners are not supposed to be nags, they are there to encourage and support… to keep you going when you feel like quitting. It is good to think how each of us can be benefit from having such a partner, and who we might be able to come alongside of and assist!

  6. What a fantastic post, Seana! I love how you have presented FOUR different methods to help us achieve our non-deadline-oriented goals along the benefit (or impact) each has if we follow (or fail to follow) through. What a way to incentivize motivation! Thanks for painting the picture so clearly: the waste of money and denying myself something wonderful are motivation enough for me!
    Cary Prince recently posted…Organize Your Paper for SuccessMy Profile

    1. Waste of money definitely motivates me! I had a client today who said she knows what to do, she just has trouble getting herself motivated. I smiled and said, “We specialize in motivation!”

  7. Im a fan of your points about joining an outside group. I’ve frequently taken classes, joined groups or signed up for webinars. Positive peer pressure can be a huge motivator!

    1. We all know peer pressure is powerful, so why not find a way to use it in a way that benefits us, right? I’ve had a yoga partner for 15 years…

  8. You hit the nail on the head! I’m ALL ABOUT deadlines. That’s why blogging has become a breakthrough for me. Even self-imposed deadlines are deadlines to me. I have rarely, if ever, broken out of it. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.. but that’s life.
    I find I either work well with deadlines, or have wakeup calls – maybe about health stuff. Like turning 36 – which was the year my father passed away. Now I didn’t get any bad news from a doctor, but I still always designated it as the year to watch my health the most. And thereafter, of course.
    Tamara recently posted…Belle Oreo Cookies and Weekend UpdateMy Profile

    1. A self-imposed deadline is a wonderful thing! With blogging, you are beholden to your audience, which is just enough accountability to keep you going. If you have monetized, all the more so. Loss of a loved one impacts us in so many ways. Perhaps this is one small positive outcome from an otherwise sad experience. We all need to pay attention to our health, and I think there is a moment where the “young” us wakes up and realizes we need to be serious about it.

    1. That’s an interesting comment, Ellen. It makes me realize that the word “accountability” may sound negative or scary to some. I’ve always considered it a very positive word, but so important to be sensitive to word choice. Support is a terrific option!

    1. Tax day is sort of the “ultimate deadline,” isn’t it? I’m guessing most of us need a deadline for that one:) Just a few ideas to keep you moving to the goals you want to – but don’t have to- achieve!

  9. I truly believe in having an accountability partner especially for people who are often demotivated. It just feels good to “work” with someone else and know that someone checking’s on you every now and then. I think that without deadlines, we tend to live in our comfort zones. I believe it’s better to set a realistic timeline for our goals.
    Rea recently posted…1K-Peso Challenge: When Bloggers Are Offline For 24 HoursMy Profile

    1. It can be hard to leave the comfort zone when there is nothing pushing you to do so. Even when we want to pursue things, it can be hard to get going in the moment. Sometimes, as you say, just having someone working with you can be helpful. I found this worked when I had children. I would work on my paperwork while they did homework.

    1. Our culture seems to revere people who appear to be independent or “getting it done all by themselves.” In my experience, the most successful people don’t try to do everything alone, but rather build a team who build multi-disciplinary strength. I highly value the professionals, friends and supporters who have helped me achieve my goals.

  10. i actually produce my work that is of high standard under deadlines but yes in doing this i have comprised my health a lot..so i will never recommend others to make habit of doing work in tight deadlines

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