I Hate Deadlines

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

— Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

I’ve come to despise deadlines. I’ve never been one to strictly adhere to a schedule, but I’m starting to develop a complete intolerance for deadlines. As I see it, suggested timelines are the way to go.

When I was studying Philosophy, I took a class on Existentialism. The professor was late for a class and remarked that she wasn’t late, because her temporality was different from the university’s. I held onto this slight tightly.

I think we, as a society, need to move off of our reliance on deadlines. Everywhere you go, you’re confronted with a deadline. Restaurants want you to show up on time for your reservation so that they can organize turnovers. You have to be on time for work because you have meetings scheduled throughout the day. The laundry room closes at 9:00 pm so you have to make sure to start your laundry at no later than 7:15 pm. Assignments for class are due at a certain time on a certain day because teachers need to be sure that you’re actually learning something throughout the course. The LCBO (Ontario’s distributor of alcoholic beverages) closes at 9:00 pm so you need to put your laundry in the wash while you collect empties, and then you’ll have an hour while your clothes are drying to make it to the liquor store and back.

Why can’t we just relax a bit and let people do their thing? Imposing such a regulated schedule on people does lead to productivity, but is it healthy or enjoyable?

I’m a terribly impatient person, so you’d think that I’d be all for deadlines. It’s the opposite. My impatience has led me to believe that deadlines are the bane of existence. I’ve always got other things to do. I may not be doing them at the present moment but they are on the to-do list. Plus, I probably need a nap. And, if nothing else, my impatience has led me down some other path that is currently distracting me from what I had previously agreed to do.

Anyway, it’s starting to become clear to me that the higher up on the food chain you are, the more leeway you’ll be given with your deadlines. This just doesn’t seem fair.

Let’s say you’ve got a reservation at a restaurant for 7:00 pm. You show up a bit early, and you’re ushered to the bar for a drink while your table is being prepared. Fine. You get your table around, say, 7:15 pm and you place your order by about 7:30 pm. Your appetizers come out at, umm, let’s say, 7:50 pm. That seems fair. It’s dinner time and the kitchen is probably busy. But, your meal doesn’t get to you until 8:45 pm. That’s a little late, but you’re having a good time and the conversation was engaging. It’s not cool, but you’ll pay your bill.

By the way, I was a horrible waiter.

Okay, so, now, let’s take the example of road construction funded by the government. You’re a tax payer who uses the roads regularly, and dutifully renews all official licensing and permits. The sign says that the construction will be done in the summer of 2013, but it’s now the spring of 2014. What’s going on? Are you going to complain? Probably not. The government has the ability to take a deadline and extend it to suit their needs, and there’s really nothing you’re going to do about it that’ll speed up the process.

But, really, we all expect road construction, so let me try to elucidate on more pertinent examples. Job applications. The deadline to apply is Friday at 4:00 pm. It says it on the job posting. If you apply by 4:01 pm, you’re late and you won’t be considered for the job. Let’s say you get an interview, and they tell you that you’ll hear back within a week. Two Wednesday’s have passed and no word. You called on Monday, but all you can do is wait until they’re ready.

Or, assignment deadlines for school. (This is where I really fall apart.) You have deadlines for school because the course has been structured in a way that will lead to your success. This, my friends, is called scaffolding. The idea, simply put, is that there is an end goal that must be met, and you, the student, will be successful if you have met certain milestones. These milestones are demarcated by your assignment deadlines.

These are pretty shit examples, I grant you, but I think you get the point. Arrive on time for your next doctor’s appointment, if you want to test this theory.

As a student, I understand that there is a lot of material to cover. As an aspiring teacher, I recognize that there is only so much time given to a student’s learning. As a fledgling writer, I have too many unwritten stories.

What I’d like to suggest is that we move toward a system of suggested timelines, in all aspects of our lives. Let’s make reservations for about 7:00 pm. Let’s have road construction that will take anywhere between 1.5 and 2 years. Let’s have assignments due at some point during the third week of the course.

Let’s make our expectations realistic and malleable. Let’s give people time.

I think, if we were to adopt this type of thinking about deadlines, we’d be happier. We’d be given time to think, consider, reconsider, implement, and reflect on our decisions. We wouldn’t be looking at what’s next because we’d already be doing we’re already doing. We wouldn’t be angry/upset/annoyed/pissed off with people who didn’t show up on time to a dinner party. We’d come to understand that life happens for people in their own time.

I do recognize that there are issues with this whole idea, but I think that our adherence to deadlines speaks to something about the nature of our society: we are addicted to predictability. Without knowing what’s next, we’re not sure where we’re currently at. Deadlines, for whatever they’re worth, give us a clear sense of achievement — you’ve reached a milestone.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t acknowledge that the most important people in my life already understand that this is the way I operate. I’m entirely dependable, if you’re just willing to wait for a little bit longer. That said, I get very little done.

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