No deadline? No finish.

Over and over again I have people telling me that if a project doesn’t have a deadline, it doesn’t get done. My personal bias to this is that this scenario makes no sense. Why would a company or school ask you to do something in the first place when they don’t have a deadline to give you? Why can’t they wait to give you the assignment until they have all the information and are prepared?

I know on the other end of the spectrum of this problem is that deadlines that are too soon cause a whole mess of other problems, but we can talk about that another time. This blog is to talk about finding motivation to do projects that don’t have a deadline but still need to get done.

It’s very easy to not prioritize a task when there is no hard end to it- especially when there are other projects to do that do have a deadline. It’s a lot easier to visualize how to break down the work you need to do on a project when you have the full timeline to work in. There’s a start point, an end point, and from there you can break down how much needs to get done each day in that window to get the project done on time. When there is no end date there is no hurry to create a start date, and the whole time frame goes out the window.

I know a common saying is, “if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” That seems to be especially true for people with ADHD because time management is a cruel mistress. Not having a deadline for a project is extra stressful because the last minute could be now or in a month. There is no knowing. You can be told about a project with “no deadline” then a few weeks later be surprised when “we need this tomorrow.” So there was a deadline the whole time! Why couldn’t they just say that in the first place?

External accountability is a frequent major motivator in people with ADHD. For a project, that external accountability would be from your boss, co-worker, client, teacher, partner, or some other person that I can’t think of right now. If external accountability is your jam for motivation, is it possible to ask the project-giver to give you a deadline anyway? Even if “there isn’t one”? Would they be able to remind you, or give you a heads up on a later date when a deadline is finalized? How much notice for a deadline would you need? If they just give you a “fake” deadline, would that still work? What would give that made up deadline meaning or importance? Is there another way to create this sense of external accountability that will work?

If for whatever reason, your project-giver can’t or won’t give you a deadline (or if you are your own project-giver), could you make one yourself? I often hear that for people with ADHD say that deadlines they give themselves don’t work, or if it’s a project that they are working on for themselves, it gets low (or no) priority. What would it take to value your own deadlines the way you value the deadlines given to you by others? How can you instill that motivation to finish a project for another person onto yourself? What would it take to believe that the projects you want to do for yourself have just as much importance or value as projects assigned by others? Would it help to think of the “you” that wants to do a project as a separate person? Would scheduling time to work on your project help? Would asking a friend to check in on you with a project you gave yourself help? What would help? Would a reward help? Would tracking your progress and seeing data on forward progress help? What do you need? What is important? No solution is better than the one you come up with yourself.  

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