Deadlines won’t actually kill you. Not unless you were a Union soldier stuck in Camp Sumter. In that case, the original meaning of the word prevails. You step across the line and you get shot. Plain and simple.
Little did I know that the true meaning for “deadline” had such gruesome origins. Of the 45,000 Union prisoners held in Camp Sumter, almost a third never made it out. Confederate commander Henry Wirz bears the brunt of the blame. He erected a line (sometimes with no physical marker) along the inside of the yard. Any prisoner who crossed the line (or touched, maybe even thought about it) was shot.
Fortunately the meaning has mellowed through the years and now it refers to a task that must be completed by a certain time.
I’m not interested in actual deadlines. Those stress-filled nails that pin your soul to some arbitrary time. Those can’t be fully avoided. As a teacher, I do put down deadlines, but I understand my workforce (a group of sometimes not intrinsically motivated eleven-year-olds). If I want the project done by Friday, I set the deadline to Thursday (or even Wednesday). Because I know things can trickle in.
Yet as an artist, I love self-imposed deadlines. It’s the only way to get work done. That slight bit of worry will push me through to actual completion.
For example, I count the days until vacation comes. Report cards are sent out and I can finally get to do all the things I want to. Yet, what often happens is that I lounge about. The idea of tomorrow always repeating in my mind. So inevitably I end up back at work with little artistically to show for the time off.
So I set imaginary deadlines for myself. And I tell people about them, thus cementing them into the fabric of the universe. I will say that such and such a story must be completed by this date. Or that I need to finish these comic panels by the weekend. I never really know what the “or else” will be. Much like the deadlines I set for my students, there’s plenty of grace period. Loads, in fact, if the date I picked was entirely arbitrary.
Yet it serves its purpose. I get things done.
In the end, no one is going to kill you for missing a deadline. You create the tension and desire all by yourself. And if you can trick you mind in to getting off the sofa, then the winner in all this is you.