Sometimes deadlines are real. 

More often, they’re arbitrary.

And self-imposed.

When I work with clients, I teach a method of date-based prioritization, so that we can plan for the time we actually have, instead of the time we wish we had.

This tends to resonate with folks, right off the bat, for items where there is a real deadline.

But then, I get the following question:

“How do I know what date to choose if there’s no deadline?; this thing can happen anytime.”

And my answer?:

“When do you want to devote time to do this? 

“And does that align with the time you have available to you on your calendar?”

Now, of course, some things have real deadlines.

Taxes, for instance.

Or that big project your boss just assigned to you.

Or that promise you made.

That’s not what we’re talking about here.

But for everything else, what if you started planning to devote time to the things you want to do without that absolute final deadline in mind?

Let’s think about a few examples here:

Nice to dos (aka your “Someday, Maybe” list):

Ok, so, let’s say you really want to organize all those thousands of photos on your phone.

(And who am I to judge!)

But does it really need to be done by a certain date?

What if more important stuff crops up that causes you to (rightfully!) miss this deadline?

Are you gonna feel bad about missing that arbitrary deadline?


But why?

What if, instead, you scheduled time into your schedule, at a pace that works for you, to steadily work away at this goal, until it’s done, whenever that is.

Personal Goals:

Do you find it difficult to put a timeline to your goals? 

Do you tell yourself: “I’ll lose 10 lbs by September”, and then feel terrible about it when September passes and you’re not there yet? 

Even if you’ve been diligently working at it?

Or when you tell yourself you’ll get that garage decluttered by the end of the year, come hell or high water, and then life intervenes and it doesn’t happen?

I’ve started to think that a healthier way to think of personal goals is as directional compasses rather than finish lines. 

I don’t need to move FAST; I need to move at a speed that reflects what else is happening in my life and that’s able to absorb new information, new real deadlines, etc.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if I’ve made a commitment that will affect others, I do everything in my power to be accountable, but for personal goals, the most important thing to me is to be heading, steadily, in the right direction. 

Hobbies/Creative Interests:

There’s also stuff that we do, particularly in our personal lives, that we do for the value that doing it brings us.  

And I think there’s a lot of value in not having deadlines for hobbies and creative work.

(NOTE: My primary hobbies are knitting/crocheting, pottery and reading.  But as you continue to read, just replace the examples I’m using with whatever your hobbies are.)

When I’m knitting or crocheting, I’m doing it because I enjoy the process, and it’s something to do with my hands. 

Yes, I’m working on projects, and those projects are goals that will be completed by some date, but I don’t know what that date is, and, more importantly, I don’t need to know. 

Adding a deadline to a creative project like this brings me nothing but stress.

Now, sometimes, I might want to knit a blanket for a new baby in my community, or something. 

But you know what?  If it’s not done before the birth, that’s OK.  (I’ll bring them a lasagna instead!)

Babies need blankets for a good long time!  If I gift it later, no one will care.

Another example?

And, as I think I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve really gotten into pottery in the last year. 

My original goal was to be able to throw bowls big enough for pho.  And it took a long time. 

There wasn’t really a way to rush it, because you just get better and better with practice.

But I achieved that goal.

And now, I have some other goals for things I’d like to throw. 

But those don’t have timelines either.

I just need to schedule time to practice, and I’ll get there when I get there.

The arbitrary deadline doesn’t add anything to the process.

But I want to know what you think!

Do you like arbitrary deadlines? 

Do they motivate you, or make you feel bad?


  • Alexis Haselberger

    Time Management and Productivity Coach

    Alexis Haselberger Coaching and Consulting, Inc

    Alexis Haselberger is a time management and productivity coach who helps people do more and stress less through coaching, workshops and online courses.  Her pragmatic, irreverent, approach helps people easily integrate realistic strategies into their lives so that they can do more of what they want and less of what they don't.  Alexis has taught thousands of individuals to take control of their time and her clients include Google, Lyft, Workday, Capital One, Upwork and more.