Self Imposed Deadlines: It’s Not That Serious


As a freelancer, I get to be my own boss. That is usually great, but I’m a people-pleaser. And as my own boss with the freedom to make my own schedule, I often set crazy deadlines for myself – a trend I notice in other areas of my life, too.


Take, for example, a recent trip to celebrate a friend’s wedding. I set all sorts of unnecessary work deadlines in the days surrounding my trip.  Suddenly and needlessly, what should have been a date I looked forward to, became one I was dreading.

It’s almost never my clients who are clamoring at me to work faster or making my schedule stressful. Instead, it’s me, regularly clamoring at myself, setting cruel and unusual deadlines that make me miserable.

Of course there’s a pay-off. I’m inclined to procrastinate, and having a tighter schedule keeps me on track. It usually means I get paid faster as well, but I don’t think that’s why I do it.

I set fast-approaching deadlines because no matter how grateful my clients or how good my work, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not enough. That I’ve somehow tricked everyone into hiring me. And if I work fast enough, no one will know I’ve pulled the wool over their eyes.

I’ve freelanced successfully for five years and most of my work comes from referrals. Intellectually, I know I’m talented and hardworking and doing good work. But so often I feel like I’m not measuring up.

This feeling of generalized inadequacy spreads into my day-to-day life.  I’m always hounding myself with a tyranny of small tasks and inconsequential deadlines, and it takes a toll.

I know many women get stressed about self-created timelines – like for getting married or having children. But I bet just as many are like me, getting way more stressed about the little self-imposed deadlines than the big life-changers.

It’s not just finishing work projects that gets me. It’s cleaning the bathroom by Tuesday, doing the laundry by Thursday, cleaning out my closets by the end of the month, and getting all my Christmas shopping done in November. When I don’t get everything on my list done, I feel bad. And when I do get it all done … so what?

Because in all my busyness, I can forget something really important: it’s not that serious.

Even with my clients, nothing I do is that serious. Yes, I help them with their online marketing, and that helps their bottom lines. But it’s not brain surgery, or brokering peace treaties.

If I don’t get all my monthly tweets scheduled today – I can schedule them tomorrow. If I wanted three blog posts done this week but only finish two, the company’s not going under. And, also critical, I won’t lose my job. Because ultimately, I’m good at what I do, and my clients appreciate me – more than I appreciate myself.

The same is true for my house (perhaps never to be super-organized) or my eyebrows (sometimes horrifically unwaxed) or my grocery list (chronically lacking in new and exciting food trends I’ve been meaning to try). I’m actually not doing that bad, and my life is ok, and I’m ok, too.

smartphone-570507_640My to-do list takes up as much energy as actually checking it off, and the more I let it go, ironically, the more inclined I am to actually tackle bigger projects I find more meaningful. So I’m happy to say that as I’ve started noticing this deadline-tendency, both in work and in life, I’m starting to be a little gentler with myself.


Take this article, for example. I had two choices for a deadline. The first was around the same time another big project was due. I could have done it, but it wouldn’t have been fun.

So I chose the latter.

About Emily Richards
Emily Richards is a freelance digital strategist living on the beautiful west coast. Her time is equally divided between cat-cuddling, coffee shops, and long walks with her longtime partner.
Share this:

2 Comments on Self Imposed Deadlines: It’s Not That Serious

  1. Emily, I can totally relate to the self-imposed deadlines – especially when it comes to freelance writing. I, too, am a freelancer, but I also hold down a full-time day job and take care of my hubby and two adult kids. My deadlines become “life or death” for me around 2 a.m. when I can barely keep my eyes open. I know it’s not the end of the world if I don’t finish, but always feel like I’m letting someone down if I have to get an extension. Glad to hear how you’re trying to add more balance to your life. Hope to take your advice and try it myself some day.

  2. Yep. Guilty. Hurry up… finish…. Hurry… for the next….fill in the blank.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.