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Self-Imposed Deadlines to Increase Writing Productivity

About a month ago my husband and I started reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and one chapter into the book I realized how great this book’s content would be for writers.

I’ll be going into depth more in the future about this book and how it could benefit writers.

For now, let’s talk about the habit of writing and utilizing self-imposed deadlines.

First, let’s discuss why I’m using the term “self-imposed.”

If someone you paid, or if someone who is responsible for paying you, isn’t waiting on you to finish your book, then your deadline is self-imposed.

Deadlines and I have a pretty rocky history. And as I was reading The Power of Habit, I wanted to analyze why exactly deadlines and I don’t get along.

This is true. But I also use it as a crutch to not stay on target sometimes. Instead of sitting down everyday, I think, “I’ll be so much more productive with my time and be able to get SO MUCH MORE done later, just not right now.”

And then I say that every day until it’s the day before the deadline.

Even if that statement is true for you, you’re causing yourself too much stress.

It’s not healthy.

Yes, I’m ecstatic I was able to write 25k words in three days, but I was STRESSED OUT. All I did was write for those three days and guess what? It led to burn out.

Doing too much of anything at one time makes you despise it until you can recover. Maybe despise is a strong word, but you get what I mean.

I heard about this recently on a podcast and couldn’t believe the epiphany I had. I was folding laundry and had to stop and write it down, like I was going to forget about it forever if I didn’t.

While the podcast was talking about this in terms of everyday life, like putting up your shoes or putting your cup in the dishwasher, I immediately thought of writing.

Is there something you should do that will take less than 1-minute, but you always make excuses? Do you have to change a character’s name or fix one paragraph? Answer an email you’ve been avoiding, but really won’t take very long?

Stop focusing on the big picture OMG I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO I CAN’T DO ANY OF IT NOW, and get started with the little things. Usually once I sit down to do those one-minute tasks I feel so much better about myself. I’ll keep going and maybe even kock out my writing goal for that day.

By not letting these 1-minute tasks pile up to 60 1-minute tasks, you can get to the bigger items on your list that may take more time and energy, but may be more rewarding!

1. Clear deadlines

Make your deadlines less scary by make them ULTRA clear. Like in a pretty visual format.

A while back I talked about the (ugly) spreadsheet I used for tracking my editing progress. And then during NaNoWriMo I found that there’s a separate “Goal Tracker” feature on their site when you can set your own goals outside of NaNo. (I think they had this before but it was in beta, and never worked for me)

:D :D :D

It’s so pretty!

Now I can see exactly what I need to do every day without tinkering or calculating anything. My deadline is clear, my average is clear.

It’s amazing! Go do it!

2. Don’t focus on the deadline

I know, confusing because I just said have crystal clear deadlines, but I get anxious when I think about deadlines. Having a countdown timer to my book’s release doesn’t motivate me right now, it just sinks a black stake into my heart.

So I have my goal.

I sit down to write, and I don’t think about how many more days I have until that deadline. I just do my daily goal.

That’s it.

It’s impossible for me to eliminate that deadline in one day, so it’s not worth me worrying about it every single day until that deadline.

I know it’ll take me, say, 40 days to even finish one round of edits, but don’t focus on that number.

Focus on the daily!

An easy way to do that is to use the 10-minute rule (another -minute rule??)

There’s many variations of this rule, but in general, set whatever time-limit for yourself--say 10 min--and see how much you can get done. Once you start, it’s much easier to continue!


For the love of God, don’t do it. The stress you feel now about your deadline two weeks from now will be SO MUCH WORSE in two weeks, when you still haven’t done anything about it.

Take it from me. I nearly killed myself at the end of NaNo. Something I said I would not do.

I tend to blow up a task until it’s the worst thing in the world, and I have no idea how I’m going to ever get it done, but when I finally sit down to do it, I’m done in 10 minutes. So much easier than I thought it would be!

4. Schedule your editing time

I don’t really like scheduling. I like freedom. Or so I think.

But in a test, scheduling helps me. A lot. I have so much more free time in my schedule than I think I do (still not a lot, but more than I thought), and scheduling lets me “log” when my free time will be, instead of taking as much of it as I want.

It also helps you MAINTAIN, which is hard for a lot of us who tend to wait to the last minute.

A little bit every day might not seem like much progress, but everyday counts. Schedule that writing or editing time and set an alarm on your phone.

When that alarm goes off, you know it’s go time. DON’T IGNORE IT!!

5. Set a timer

This is a new thing I’m trying but I already like it.

When you sit down for your scheduled writing time, set a timer. There’s a lot of stuff you need to do in a day, and you’ve allocated so much time for writing. Set a timer and write.

I’ve allocated 1 hour and 30 minutes every day to writing when I get home. I set my timer and I don’t get up until that timer goes off. What if I’m in a groove and I want to keep going?

Even better to stop! You’ll be so much more motivated to continue tomorrow.

Setting a timer activates my “race to finish-line” high that I get by waiting to the end of a deadline, except this isn’t THE deadline. It’s your daily deadline.

Some days will be harder than others, but use that timer to get you motivated!

6. Reward yourself

If you reach a deadline, there better be a reward. Not just the reward of knowing you met your deadline, but something you would look forward to. A treat.


Because if you have a negative, stressful association with deadlines like I do, then you need to reinvent how you think about deadlines.

And a great way to do that is through positive associations, like rewards!

Pick weekly rewards, or bi-weekly rewards, and then one big deadline reward. Make them good, but obviously within your budget or ability to procure. Sooner or later you’ll behaviorally modify your way out of hating deadlines!


Hopefully you found this content helpful! I've had a hardcore love-hate relationship with deadlines, and only recently feel like I'm finally mastering a balance. I still have a long way to go, but use these tips to help nudge myself closer and closer to where I want to be.

Comment down below with your best hack for using deadlines! I invite any little bit of advice that will help me overcome the "hate" part of my relationship with deadlines.

Happy Writing!!

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