“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Most people have a love hate (or a hate hate relationship) with deadlines. Knowing a project has an end can be motviating, terrifying and just a little bit of both. I love deadlines. Knowing that I have a certain amount of time to complete a project brings out my inner racer and I want to beat that deadline. It also brings out my inner procrastinator and I want to wait as long as possible to start. It's a terrible combination, like tying my shoelaces together right before a big race, and then crawling along the race instead of running.
Finding what works best for you is a big part of the creative life, but whether you like them or not, deadlines are always going to come into play. Whether their deadlines you give yourself, or deadlines hoisted upon you by outside forces, they're going to come for you. You need to learn to work with them even if you might not like them.
Work backwards from your deadline. If something is due in four weeks, figure out what you need to have finished every day to meet that goal. Need 300 pages edited in 4 weeks? 300 pages divided by 4 weeks ( 28 days) is roughly 11 pages a day. Breaking it down into bitesize pieces often helps make a project seem less overwhelming than it actually is. You can also use it to predict how long a project will take. If you're trying to write a 90,000 word novel and know you average 1,500 words a day then you can estimate that it will take you 60 days to finish that project. Knowing your own speed and creating your own timeline oftens helps you stay in control of your projects and keep moving forward even when you're not sure what to do.
Deadlines are great because they give you a target to aim for. They make me feel like I know where the goal post is and how long it's going to take me to get there. Without those, I end up lost and confused, wandering around without any clear direction. I'm easily distracted and I need the focus that a deadline gives me.
Some people however seem to shut down the second a deadline enters the picture. There's some sort of mental shut down that makes deadlines into the enemy. I think the best thing to do here is keep moving forward and writing the day away. There's no shame in that; you've got to work on things nd see them through to the end.
Writing to a deadline is one of the things I love about NaNoWriMo. It's got a clear goal post, it's well-defined, and easy to know if you made it or not. Did you write 50,000 words by the end of November, yes or no? It's a goal post that's easy to define and you know what it requires. How many words a day do you need to write? What do you need to change to make that happen?
Knowing the goal let's you adjust your other needs and balance to find what to do. Set a dealine and see what happens.