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Fixed in Time

July 12, 2015

Even though I technically don't have strict deadlines or due dates for these biweekly posts, I try to write twice a week at the very least, for multiple reasons. Not only does it keep the momentum going, so I don't stop writing, but it also helps keep me constantly thinking about the things I write and remain conscious of the ideas I could be writing about. And for those reasons, despite the fact that there is nothing keeping the due dates or assigning deadlines, I try very hard to get at least two posts in every week. And so far, I've only failed once (last year) out of the nearly 100 posts I've written, under the load of finals week and schoolwork.

But if you can't tell by the date, I very nearly broke my streak this week, with this particular post. What was originally intended to be a Friday post ultimately ended up being pushed back by two days, and the topic changed multiple times. This weekend was especially taxing on myself in a few different ways, and that made it difficult for me to sit down and focus on writing something coherent. But I've recovered a bit, and the self-set deadline for this post is fast approaching, so I'm back to writing, this time, about the idea of deadlines and goals.

Setting goals and deadlines is by definition a way of building a prison for yourself. I could choose to simply write these posts whenever "I feel like it", and that's actually my self-ordained rule for the other website I write for, over at Cafe Avant-Garde. But for this blog, I have a strict rule of two posts per week. In some ways that's heavily restricting, especially when on top of the other dozens of goals and projects for which I also have deadlines and due dates. If I miss 3-4 of the tasks assigned for one day, I'll have to finish those the next day. And the effect snowballs out of control surprisingly quickly, at which point your life slowly goes through a phase of crumbling to rubbles and failed to-do lists. So once I've set some deadlines for myself and my projects, I can't really "escape" it in any way unless I choose to completely abandon the project for a few weeks later. There's a cascade of things that happen when I don't keep to my own goals that ultimately breaks down my workflow for everything I do. And that's undoubtedly the case with most goals and deadlines. If you have a 9 to 5 job, those goals and milestones work the same way, and at school, due dates and assigned work does effectively the same thing: building a time-bomb / prison for us to get things done on time, so the chain of events don't collapse and so we don't stop being productive.

I live and die by my to-do lists and calendars, but there are pros and cons to such a religiously planned lifestyle.

But from another angle, goals are a kind of necessity evil to freely doing what we individually want to achieve, because they're a necessary part of getting things done. Without any kind of organization to workflow -- either ones you create and enforce yourself, if you're working for yourself, or the ones assigned to you by your employee or schools -- projects more than a few hours long wouldn't get done, and long-term planning would be out the window. Deadlines are kind of a prison that makes you more productive while you're in it.

Plan meticulously, but execute spontaneously.

But as with all things, there's a wide spectrum between living by a meticulously planned schedule and to-do lists, and living purely for the moment. It's almost impossible to live at either poles, but there's still a wide gamut, everything from the "backpacking across the country" type, carpe diem risk-taking types to someone who calculates and plans everything to the day and to the smallest units of work they can manage. Personally, I think a good way to find balance between the two poles is to plan meticulously, with your mind fixed in the future, but execute spontaneously, with your mind wholly in the present moment.

Several months ago, I wrote a post called Living in the Future, talking about how out culture seems to be so focused on preparing constantly for the future --- the career options, the colleges, the grades, the opportunities -- and neglecting the present moment. And I still firmly believe what I said there, but at the same time, a life without any kind of organized planning or self-imposed deadlines is a life that's too confusing and chaotic for anyone to really enjoy the moment while they live it. And for me, that's enough of a reason to keep planning as much as possible, but to make the most of each moment still, with everything that I do. Planning and living spontaneously are not mutually exclusive lifestyles.

When my own project deadlines come up and they present conflicts in schedule, people often ask me why I can't just "do it later", since there isn't anyone else I'm working for. So in their eyes, self-imposed due dates aren't really due dates, and that's technically true -- I can just push things back. But if I work against my own deadlines, the consequences are the same. The difference is that, instead of being unable to achieve goals set by employees or some higher-up institution, it's my goals I'm neglecting. And ultimately, that's also against my own ability to stay focused and in the moment.

And that's the story of how, despite feeling quite unproductive and tired, I came to push out this post at the latest time possible. Planning isn't the enemy of spontaneity, it's the key.