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68.3 - Demand deadlines

5/19/2022 6:27 am |

This is one of the musings I wrote as part of my "Wisdom of Kevin" project, which I wrote about before. I am taking the lines of advice or wisdom that Kevin Kelly has begun publishing on his blog on his birthday and writing a short essay as I think about them. The writing is not perfect, nor is it meant to be. These essays are written for myself and no other audience. This one comes from his 68th birthday and is the third entry, thus the key in the title of 68.3.

Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.

As with most things like this, this boils down to clear communication. I have come to believe that being given a task is being given incomplete communication. The task is only half of the information needed, the deadline is the other half.

In my years working, I have learned that if I don't have deadlines things get dropped. How can I say something with no due date is more important than a thing due today, or this week, or this month? Sure, I can intuit some deadline, or I can assign an arbitrary one, but often if I know that I picked the deadline then I can change it.

The second half of this is the perfectionist angle, where I come at it solely from the procrastination and prioritization angle. I think he sees it that way given his career history and the length of time he has been self directed. For those in the trenches who receive jobs or directives from managers, it is crucial to get deadlines on tasks given to you. More so, get them in writing.

It won't save you everytime that manager comes asking for the thing that isn't done yet, but if you can point to the email where you remind them they asked for it to be done by next week, it will cover yourself in most cases.

Looking at it from Kevin's angle though, he also sees it from the side of being able to be done. If you give yourself a cut off for a project, it means that you can't iterate on it endlessly and that, psychologically, you give yourself permission to move on. Writing a book is a big task, but getting the initial story down is only a fraction of the work. It is incredibly easy to spin your wheels and iterate over and over looking for places to improve, edits to make, etc. If you don't have a deadline, you'll never be done with it. Same for art.

Even for my personal coding projects, when I decide a feature to work on I have to set deadlines or else I will either not do it, or I'll just sit and iterate and try to find new features or pieces of the thing.

Lastly I'll say that this is true even for interpersonal relationships. I've told my wife that if she has a task she wants me to do, it helps me immensely for her to tell me when she'd like it done by. Otherwise, similarly, I can't mentally prioritize it correctly and it will lead to me not doing a thing she wanted.

The heuristic I have settled on in regards to tasks from my partner - If she doesn't include a deadline with a task and I can't intuit one, I will then either A) ask her for one, or B) set the same-day as my deadline. I have found that going for B, when able, is almost always the most correct process for this. But, when it's a task which is obviously bigger than an after-work chore or something, communication is key.

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