460. Deadlines

There are many times when we’re expected – maybe even required – to have something finished well, proof-read, collated, and mailed or handed in by a certain time. Not having done what’s expected when it’s expected may have unpleasant consequences. Your project, though perhaps better than someone else’s, won’t get the credit you think it should get, because it’s late. Some people need deadlines, and do their best work when they know there are time limits; they need that structure. Others do better when they are allowed to work at their own rates; they don’t like deadlines.
I, personally, need deadlines. Nowadays, I mostly set my own. I want to have written five hundred articles by April 30, 1997. That means I have to write an article almost every day from now till then. Of course, I’m the only authority I have to answer to. I’m writing a column for a newspaper, but the article I’m writing right now will appear in that newspaper around October of 2003 – six and a half years from now – so there’s no rush. But I have a lot to say, and I’m afraid that if I don’t keep writing…I won’t keep writing.
I know children who like to know what’s required, and when it’s due. Some of these children want to know so that they can budget their time wisely. Others want to know so that they’ll know how long they can procrastinate; why start something on Monday, they think, if it’s not due until Friday? It helps some children when they’re given a time structure to follow.
I also know children who don’t like requirements or deadlines. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like to work; it just means they like to be free to be in charge of their own timing. A common adult answer to children like this is, “Too bad. This work has to be done, and you’ve got to do it by the time it’s due. That’s life.”
But that isn’t life. It’s just one way to approach one part of life. Lots of great work is done by people who aren’t told that they have to do it, or at least aren’t given a specific time by which it has to be done. I’m wary of attempts to get everyone to follow the same pattern; they may make things easier for the ones in charge, but they don’t respect the uniqueness of each person.
I know all of this is easy for me to say. The deadlines I have are only the ones I choose to have. I used to think I worked better when people gave me deadlines, but now I think I work better when I am working according to my own schedule. I think some children are like that, too, and I think we’d do a better job preparing them for the future if we helped them discover the roles deadlines will or won’t play in their lives.

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