Anyone who has ever attempted to keep a deadline will know that deadlines and dead ends are almost synonymous for most of us. Because there are usually two ways to meet a deadline: There is the perfectionist, obsessive-compulsive, early bird way — and there is the rest of the world’s way.
The perfectionist would probably not even bother to ask for a deadline. As soon as the task is assigned, the perfectionist would prioritise what is already on the plate and then just get down to work, dead serious about it from the first moment.
Perfectionists would give it their all, do a perfect job and the assignment would be ready a day or a week or even a month before it is due. Mission accomplished — and that perfectionist would go on to meet the next deadline (that actually isn’t there because it has not been asked for) and finish with days to spare — dead on, each time!
For the rest of us, however, this is more or less how a deadline is met. The first thought is, ‘oh, the deadline is tomorrow night, plenty of time! Let’s go to the exhibition at the other end of town: I’ll think the assignment through while I’m looking around and then I just need an hour or so to put it all down. The major work will be done in my head, anyway’.
Next step. The exhibition. Naturally it absorbs our attention completely, the assignment is completely forgotten and when we come home dead beat, we just flop into bed, dead to the world.
Twelve or fourteen hours after that we emerge groggily and panic when we realise that we haven’t given the assignment a thought — yet. I’ll do it just now, we think, and go in to bathe and our eyes alight on the grungy bathroom tiles. Out comes the washing powder, the scrubbers and the brushes. We finally emerge from a bath a couple of hours later with the floor tiles and the wall tiles gleaming, but arms and neck aching, feeling more dead than alive — and we go straight to the couch to rest our tired muscles.
A couple of hours after this we look at the clock and note that we have only six hours left. ‘Just have to clear the cobwebs from the head,’ we say, and take off for a walk. The park is heavenly at that time of day, no crowds, and the weather is delightful. Just right for us to allow thoughts to run free and ideas to build themselves!
We bump into a friend we haven’t met in ages. Obviously someone with similar likes and dislikes because they are out at the same place, at the same time of day! We get talking; we go for a cup of coffee. And suddenly, it is dark and we stop dead in our tracks. There is only an hour, tops two, for us to make that deadline! We set off at a dead run, dead certain we’re not going to make it this time. Straight home. Straight to the computer. Straight to work. We work, we delete, we work some more, delete some more.
We’re barely halfway through when we put our head in our hands and accept defeat. We can’t flog this dead horse any further.
And then out of the blue, moments before the deadline, a flash of brilliance strikes. We start again. No disturbances, no distractions. Ideas gush out and the assignment practically writes itself. True, it won’t stop anyone dead in their tracks. It won’t make a difference to the world — but we’ve made that deadline!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.