There are three things that I believe really focuses the mind: a good question, a S.M.A.R.T goal, and a serious deadline. I plan to talk about deadlines in this blog post as a result of something that happened to me last week. We live in an age of distraction. There is so much competing for our attention that we are overwhelmed and this encourages us to procrastinate.
I have been working on a side research project for a couple of years and made steady progress. I did this project in my spare time – after work and sometimes on weekends. But I reached a point where 60% of the work was done then I lost momentum and started to struggle. I had invested too much in the project to abandon it and I was also too close to the finish line to walk away from it. I was in that phase of a project that I call the ‘hard slog’. This is the bit you encounter once the initial euphoria of a project you are passionate about start to wear off. It is the least enjoyable section of any project because it feels like you are running against gale winds and it is resisting your forward movement. Progress is at a slow heavy pace.
However, I was able to make progress this month by introducing external motivation and pressure into the equation after internal motivation failed to sustain me. I submitted an abstract of my research project to a conference a few weeks ago and my submission was accepted. This meant I had to deliver a 15 minute presentation on my project this Monday (June 18) which has forced me to push through the project’s ‘hard slog’. I have made more progress last week than I have in 7 months. The reason is that I could not afford to procrastinate because I had a serious deadline to deliver by. I had to make the necessary breakthrough if I was going to be able to deliver the conference presentation. I had internal deadlines which I set myself in the past but they were not really serious deadlines and that was the reason why my productivity was low while procrastination was high. A serious deadline is a deadline with consequences for failure.
Procrastination was not an option and this helped me focus on the research project in a way that I have not in months. I would say that I have added about 15% to the previous 60% of the work accomplished. Sometimes introducing some external pressure helps you make needed progress especially when internal motivations and pressures start to fail. A goal without a serious deadline is simply a desire which usually takes forever to get accomplished. I don’t have forever to get this project done.