The first method (Deadlines) seems the most popular. Or rather, it’s the default way. We were raised with deadlines in school, by the government (e.g. tax time), and at work (boss gives deadlines)...
As you get into your own business, it’s fine to use the Deadline method for the rare project that is so important that it’s worth (a) throwing off your regular rhythm and balance, (b) neglecting other areas in your life, (c) and potentially disappointing people by not keeping commitments.
However, it creates chronic stress if balance is neglected for more than the rare project.
Over many years, I’ve learned to work mostly by the Scheduling Method, which allows me to sustainably grow my business year after year, without much stress. Thus far, 2020 has been the best year for my business… kind of a surprise. The best year before this was 2019. And the best before that was 2018. And the best before that was 2017. There’s a clear trend of sustainable growth that even a worldwide pandemic can’t seem to stop. Not saying this as a boast — but I’m genuinely curious and fascinated that the Scheduling Method seems to work!
The drawback is that at first, it’s not as fun as the Deadline Method… or maybe it is more accurate to say: Scheduling is not as stimulating as allowing external Deadlines to be the primary driver… because over time, that’s not fun either, but it really does motivate us to get things done. Taxes, for examples. Or due dates given by a client or external authority.
The Scheduling Method is hard, because it requires practicing one’s ability to generate creativity on demand, at will, on schedule. However, it often means we get things done ahead of external deadlines. To some people, this may feel like it’s not maximizing our energy or time.
The Deadline Method is like the old sayings: “Necessity is the mother of invention” or “Pressure creates diamonds” — creativity will naturally happen when we’re pushed up against a wall.
When we’re working on a project for the first time, it’s hard to know how much time to schedule. We haven’t done it before and it might take us longer than we expect. Once we’ve done a project (such as a course launch) once or twice, we can then better estimate how long things will take us and schedule more wisely.
Combining the Two Methods
I actually use a combination of both… but most of my external deadlines are internally generated first, then I announce those due dates… and they therefore become external deadlines. For example, I announce a course start date, and then I schedule my preparations accordingly.
Also, I’ve learned to generate more external deadlines that are less serious, more casual. For example, I’m now doing Beta courses each week, which are scheduled live group sessions where I teach a raw initial draft of some course ideas. The brief preparation I do for those Beta sessions helps me get going on outlining and thinking about that future course.
Another example of a casual deadline I generate is my content rhythm. It’s “casual” because I see every piece of content as a work-in-progress for a future version of that content. I first commit to a schedule of content publishing, and then over time, my audience gets accustomed to seeing my content on certain days. Most of them don’t care about that rhythm, but I imagine at least a few of them hope and expect my content on those specific days, and that “casual external deadline” helps me to stay accountable.
The most stressful thing is when we live life driven mostly by serious external deadlines. Preparing our taxes at the last minute. Finishing client presentations by pulling an all nighter. Financial stress that gets us to finally launch or learn marketing. And the ultimate: death staring us in the face, getting us to finally get going with our authentic business.
Thanks to my fellow MasterHeart Business Group members for contributing questions and comments that led to this article!
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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