I have a strange relationship to time. I hate being late to anything, but I see no need in conforming to unimportant deadlines. I leave 15 minutes before I need to in order to get my sons to basketball practice or my daughter to school, but if I can work at home for an hour and get to the office at 10 instead of the standard 8:30 or 9, I feel like I’ve made a good decision and made wise use of my time.
If something is scheduled, I’m early when I can be. But when it comes to schedules, I’m not a fan. This is especially true of deadlines.
I learned to love deadlines when I was a young reporter. I loved the binary nature of them. I loved the feeling of working in a full-on sprint right up to the moment something was due. They were a daily reality and superseded any other arbitrary schedule. You hit deadline, you did your job. You were late, people were giving you funny looks.
This was good for me. It was good for my career. As an author and ghostwriter, I need deadlines to keep my head on straight. Of the books I have written, none have been late. All have been turned in on time, on budget and on word count with minimal changes.
But lately, I have been trying to focus on doing more writing for myself. I have an idea of the things I want to write and have designed a business model that will allow me to take more ownership over the end deliverable, control over the story and equity in the outcome. The only trouble? I don’t have a deadline.
My Curtis likes to say that the only thing that separates a dream from a goal is a deadline. But how, when you are working on something on which no one is waiting, do you impose one?
I realize there’s something to be said for discipline. I know that truly self-motivated people are driven by their own expectations, chief among them is a deadline. I consider myself to be rather motivated, but why then do my own deadlines feel arbitrary and unimportant?
I think it has something to do with accountability. I need it and the need for that accountability, the need to meet other people’s expectations drives me. It was in these needs where my love of election night coverage came from; it was in these needs that I took joy in chaining myself to a laptop to bang out 10,000 words a night for a week to get a book done. And I love the work. I really do.
So why do I have such a hard time doing it for myself?
I don’t suppose there is a happy ending to this story. I don’t have a closing thought about keeping myself on track. It might be that I am just a company man, that I am most comfortable working for other than for myself. Why, then, do I remain fixated on the notion of doing things my way, publishing my way, going my own way?
I’d love some thoughts, some shared experiences, a bit of empathy and advice. How do you work as hard for yourself as you do for others?
Let me know.