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  • Mark Burns

Set a Deadline Because Life is Finite


Perry Bible Fellowship, "Todays My Birthday" - pbfcomics.com

I think about death every day. It helps to keep me present, grounded, and grateful. But more importantly, it’s a reminder to get my ass in gear and start working on that next project. It’s why last fall I left my job to start this company, even though I could list a dozen reasons why not.

Talking about death often weirds people out, understandably - but it’s the most crucial and undeniable factor of all existence. Whether you acknowledge it consciously or not, it’s the finiteness of life - this impending deadline - that keeps everything moving forward. If we lived forever, there would just be a lot of loafing.

For example, do you ever notice sometimes you’re about to leave a friend’s place, you put your coat on, meander towards the door, and suddenly there’s this burst of conversation? It’s like you’re trying to cram in everything left unsaid, now that there’s a clearly established time limit. Earlier that evening, you maybe felt pressure to fill an indeterminate amount of time, paralyzed by abundance. But now, with your hand on the doorknob, intuition takes over. You’re no longer looking for the right time to broach a topic, because this is the only time.

Creativity thrives within parameters and the most important parameter is time. The presence of a deadline forces you to trust your instincts and negates one of the biggest enemies of creativity: perfectionism.

A deadline forces decision. It forces action. It’s why most sports have a clock. You have this much time to determine a winner. There is a sense of urgency. Deadlines are how HBO produced 7 full seasons of Game of Thrones in the time it took George RR Martin to write one more book.

When I decided to start this company, I gave myself two weeks to come up with a name. This was an intimidating deadline, but it forced me to dive deep into a process that I dreaded. Through sheer will, I wrung out enough bad ideas to learn very clearly what I didn’t want. Eventually, some patterns emerged, and I made a decision I could feel good about because I exhausted my resources within the parameters.

When you have a daunting task in front of you, there is a simple process: 1) define success and 2) set a deadline. And then all that’s left is to do the work.

If you have reasonable deadlines in place, and you trust yourself (or your team) to honor them, then life becomes easy. The beautiful thing is that a reliable productivity system makes it easier to stay present when you’re juggling several projects or when you’re just kickin it.

There are an abundance of frivolous man-made productivity hacks that you can take or leave as you prefer, but the use of a deadline is an essential one. After all, it’s a microcosm of the One Shared Truth of our universe.