There is something about a deadline that will push you to either work harder and faster than you have before or give up entirely. I, on many an occasion, have come up to a deadline and while before there has been no panic, right before the end, whether there is a week or month or hour before the deadline, it becomes to feel as if you must race to complete work if it is not already entirely completed. Even mere sentences away from the finish of a piece of work with days to go, there is a sense of panic that there is still more to be done. So why is it that we feel so pressured by looming deadlines?
When I was looking into this idea, I stumbled upon something unexpected. A humorous essay. About deadlines. While people of my generation often make jests of the things that we struggle with, I wasn’t expecting to find a law on the nature of deadlines from the mid ’50s written in a piece that was laced with comedy. This idea is known as Parkinson’s Law, an idea taken from the first line of this essay for the 1955 edition of The Economist which simply stated this; ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ And while it is not something I had heard before, and not exactly what I was looking for, it makes an interesting point. While this is not to say that if you asked me to write five thousand words in an hour, it could be done, and if it was, it certainly wouldn’t be to any sort of exceptional quality. But we do tend to ration out work for things that have further away deadlines, even if that means that, upon the deadline creeping up behind us, we have more work to do.
When we have deadlines, especially looming, we tend to push our focus into the one specific project that is demanding our attention. Even when we are not actively working on the thing that is requiring work, we may find ourselves thinking about it because it draws our focus. It will also mean that it may be hard to focus on other things at the same time. We push our focus into this thing until it is done and then we move our focus on to the next thing, the next deadline, maybe something we said that we would do after the last thing that we had worked on. Either way, it is important that we set these deadlines for ourselves to allow ourselves to move forward and make progress within the projects that are not only necessary but also otherwise.
In our world, there is always going to be an end date that we must meet, whether it is sooner or later. What is important is that, unlike with the way that we are likely to deal with work, we deal with it the way we should deal with work. Working at an appropriate pace and feeling proud of ourselves for the work that get done as we go through.