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Works Well to Deadlines

April 15, 2012

DeadlineIn the working world, it’s quite common for employers to actively seek potential employees who ‘work well to deadlines’ – individuals who love a challenge, who will make sure every task gets completed as scheduled, who take pride in meeting a goal within a predetermined timeframe, no matter how tight it might be.  I have always been one of those people – and damn proud of it.  (There are, of course, those who would tell you that what that phrase really means is that we super-achievers generally leave things until the last minute and then scramble madly to get them done on time.  And while I don’t always fall into that category, I certainly can’t argue with the hypothesis. Because that’s me, too.)

In school, I was always a ‘keener’ when it came to projects.  I loved the idea of having to create something unique that met some next-to-impossible criteria set out by a teacher. I would read and re-read the guidelines, make plans, envision the end result. As for actually getting started? 1960s LibraryWell, that would generally wait until a few days before the project was due – then I’d spend every night at the Library, pouring over research information, or at home digging through books and magazines, or out hunting down subject matter experts to get the information, photographs, or other materials necessary to stick to the Bristol board or put into the written report (or both).  Needless to say, I’d be up most of the night before the due date, putting on the ‘finishing touches’.  And I always got an A (well, with one exception – a Grade 10 urban geography project that I actually worked on for WEEKS and was particularly proud of; our regular teacher took ill and the substitute teacher gave me a D; unfortunately, that experience proved to me that spending ‘extra’ time on something wasn’t worth the effort).

My first year of full time employment was spent in a law office. There were always deadlines to meet, and accuracy was of the utmost importance (NOTE: this was before photocopiers, word processors, computers – 1970s Typewriterso everything was TYPED and you could NOT MAKE ANY MISTAKES or you STARTED ALL OVER AGAIN). I worked first in the estates and corporate division (typing wills, preparing  income tax returns for dead people, composing minutes of meetings [that were never held] for privately held companies), then in the real estate area (typing up all those deadline-driven offers of purchase, deeds, mortgages).  There always seemed to be something that needed to be done ‘at the last minute’ and I was the ‘go to girl’ for all such challenges.

MicroAge 1978 Trade Show

MicroAge 1978 Small Computer Trade Show

In every job I held after that, I was always the one who would volunteer for extra tasks, or the one who took on the ‘impossible’ and made it possible. I created inventory systems and complex databases where none existed, organized conferences and ran trade shows almost single-handedly, designed learning systems, curriculum materials, and teacher training courseware.  I learned the ins and out of computers before anyone knew how they might be used in education or business, created software and end user documentation, trained others in their use. I took on teaching and training responsibilities on top of my regular full time ‘instructional designer’ job.  I went in to work early and left late; at one point I even took a typewriter home so I could work on weekends.  I did it all (at one point, a human resources staff member was assigned to shadow me for a week because my boss had put through a request for an increase in salary due to an increase in my responsibilities – the HR department was convinced it wasn’t possible for one person to do all the things he said I did; they were proven wrong – and, yes, I got the raise!)

When my kids were born, I decided to ‘stay home’ during the day to ‘just be a mom’.  JugglingFor the next ten years, I taught at night and/or on weekends, while (during the day) I raised two boys, volunteered at pre-school, the YMCA, the Toy Library, the public school (usually acting as ‘head of’ parent committees, undertaking fund raising initiatives, instigating change were I saw that change was needed, etc.), and got the boys to swimming lessons, baseball, gymnastics, etc. When son #2 entered Grade 1, I added part-time daytime teaching to my roster of ‘things to be done’, and was soon facilitating corporate computer training for the College where I worked, as well as teaching whatever new technologies came down the pike (e.g., internet technologies, web design, electronic document management).  I sat on a half dozen committees at work, chaired the parent council at the boys’ school, ran a side-line consulting business on top of teaching (days, nights, weekends), conducted corporate training ‘on the side’, took care of my kids, managed a household. I juggled it all and rarely considered it ‘too much to handle’, even when I became the sole wage earner in the family.

In my last five years of teaching (after a short ‘hiatus’ where I left teaching to run my own web design company), I taught high-tech courses, took on coordinator responsibilities that no one else wanted, ran professional development activities for faculty, designed and developed multimedia presentations for the school, acted as a student advisor and mentor to new part-time teachers, developed several new courses, and wrote a couple of textbooks.  When I finally ‘burned out’ (read: got fed up) in 2010, I ‘retired early’ (read: quit) in order to do the one thing I’d always wanted to do with my life – write on a full time basis.

Fast forward eighteen months. I am living my dream.  I get up each day, work on my own schedule, write when I want, don’t write if I choose not to.  Sounds great, right?  Well, it would be if I wasn’t Ms Superachiever.  For the first six months, I was stressed all the time. I didn’t know why.  I was fine if I had a deadline approaching for a short story contest, or if company was coming for a visit and the house needed cleaning, or I had some task to undertake for my parents or a friend or one of the kids.  OverwhelmedBut in between, I was listless, cranky, wavering between depressed and distressed.  I didn’t understand what was wrong, but I sucked it up and kept going. I deliberately found deadlines to meet and then planned and envisioned and collected data until the eleventh hour, when I would hunker down at my computer and type like a crazy woman in order to meet them.  Only then was I happy. For a while I thought I had it under control, but lately I’ve come to realize I don’t. And it’s affecting my health and my happiness in a big way.

It wasn’t until I read an article about ‘Stress Addicts’ that I realized why my ‘perfect life’ hasn’t been so perfect.  It turns out that some of us (see: Me, above) live for that jolt of adrenalin (and cortisol and noradrenalin) that kicks in when we have to ‘fight or flee’. This ‘hormone cocktail’ actually improves cognitive function in the short term, so the payoff is that we’re actually more productive when we get a ‘hit’ of deadline-induced stress. Of course, when we ‘come down’, we get miserable and depressed – so we actively seek out and create more stress for ourselves.  Got Stress?It’s a never-ending cycle – we’re like junkies, looking for that next deadline, that next project to take on, that new opportunity to do something for others so we can feel valuable – just so we can feel the rush. And if we don’t get it – well, we’re a mess!  And, unfortunately, like any addition, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Prolonged stress causes all sorts of physical and psychological problems (some of which I can attest to – anxiety, sleep disruption, headaches, back pain, chaotic eating habits, tight muscles, cognitive impairment) that can eventually lead to far more serious problems. So I’ve decided to take a step back (just as soon as my next deadline is met … LOL) and do something about it.

Clearly the first step is figuring out how to ‘relax’ (my husband is good at this – he gets done what needs to be done, then goes off and does something he enjoys, or just sits and does ‘nothing’; the only time I can bring myself to ‘do nothing’ is a the occasional reading jag when I pick up a new book, or the one day each week in the summer when I head to the beach – getting away from all the things that ‘need to be done’ is the only way for me to stop focussing on deadlines, or the lack thereof).  LabyrinthNext I’m going to actually use those meditation CDs I bought a couple of years ago, walk the local labyrinth more often, perhaps take up yoga, and cut back on caffeine (I don’t drink coffee, but I do love my tea).  I’m also going to have to face up to the fact that I’ve been avoiding the evil ‘E’ word (Exercise) – using my various ‘deadlines’ (or misery over not having any) as an excuse not to put on my walking shoes and get out for some fresh air.  I’m also going to take a page from my husband’s book – pick the one or two most important things that need to be done and forget about the rest (after all, most of the things I sweat about aren’t all that urgent and if I don’t have deadlines, why should I be looking for them?)

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Bad habits are easy to form, hard to break.  But maybe, if I set a deadline for overcoming my addition … (big oops 🙂 ).  The ‘bottom line’ here is that while I’ve always been proud of my ability to ‘work well to deadlines’, most of those deadlines don’t mean a damn thing now that I’ve reached … the other side of 55.

Bliss Quote

  1. April 18, 2012 5:59 pm

    Just read the ALL stuff you did. Then re-read it. Wow. that’s all I can say – just wow! I personally follow the Douglas Adams mantra to deadlines – “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. At my office, I am usually the guy typing with one finger. (I am a journalist). So as a true believer in taking things slow I say – go for it !

    • April 18, 2012 10:02 pm

      Great quote – thanks. I’d like to hear that whooshing sound a little more often!


  2. Cathy permalink
    April 15, 2012 7:58 pm

    Margo, you must have been going through a lot of self-exploration. It sounds like you’ve been in some pain over it. I know the feeling of anxiety, thinking there must be something I should be doing – how can I possibly have nothing pending?? And wanting that business to give my life some structure. I always have a huge ‘to-do’ list that I’m constantly working through and some things never seem to get done, but it calms me to write them all down. I think you’ve got some good ideas about how to get control. I need to do the same.

    • April 18, 2012 10:01 pm

      It’s an ongoing process, that’s for sure. Maybe in another 30 or so years, I’ll get it right!


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