Set powerful deadlines

If you are working great without deadlines and goals, then by all means, keep going. But if you are struggling to push a project forward (or a learning project like language lessons), then you might try a self-imposed deadline, says Leo Babauta, an author, vegan and minimalist.

Here are some things that work for Babauta that could help you:

  1. Have an external motivation for meeting the deadline. For example, leaving for a trip is a deadline for all the work you have to do, because you may not have good internet connections on the trip, so you really need to get pretty much everything done.
  2. But have a stronger internal motivation. The external motivation helps a lot to give you that extra push, but if you really don’t care about a project, your heart won’t be in it. The heart is the important part. So, you do all your work because you want to help people, and that connection with them and intention to help is what really motivates you.
  3. Set yourself up for success. Just having the motivation and deadline won’t do the trick … you have to figure out how you’re going to execute. When exactly will you do the Spanish lessons? What parts of your day will you block off for doing the work? Actually, block them off, and learn to focus while you’re in those blocks. Remembering your deeper motivation and the external deadline reasons will usually pull you into focus when you want to run to distraction.

Two reasons why this works

There are two big reasons Babauta says why all of this works, even if it seems extrinsic and excessive.

“The first reason is that it pushes you past the fear. Even if we have good internal motivation, we put off the work or learning projects we really want to do because of fear. We fear failure, discomfort, not knowing, not being good at something. In other words, we fear uncertainty. And we run from uncertainty, every day, throughout the day,” he says.

“But the deadline, set up in this way, helps push past this fear. That puts you where you want to be, doing the work and not thinking about whether you should do it. Not trying to run from it,” he continues.

“The second reason is that it takes away choice. All day, we have choices - check email, check social media, read blogs and news sites, clean the house, do an errand, or do the work we want to do. We’re exhausted by all this choice, and when push comes to shove, we often choose not to do the things we really want to do but are afraid of,” emphasizes Babauta.

A powerful deadline to remove choice

“Deadlines with strong motivators (like losing R10,000 if you don’t do it) will remove the choice. Suddenly, you know for sure that you’re going to do the work or do the language lessons. You will sit down, and just do it, without thinking about it, because the choice has been made for you,” he says.

“You don’t need deadlines every day, all the time. But sometimes, setting up a powerful deadline to remove choice and push you past the fear is exactly what you need,” concludes Babauta.