Writing about not writing

I have a self-imposed goal of writing at least one blog post a month. I want to create a habit of writing on some topic every month, so that I reflect on an insight that I had gathered or an experience that has impacted me. While one can argue that once a month is too little to create a habit, I could argue that given my work, travel, home, hobbies and everything else, this was a good goal to hold myself accountable to. I don’t have a specific date for each month. As long as I publish my blog within the calendar month, I give myself a pat on the back. So, till July of this year I managed to stay on track. August though has been a different story.

It has been a frustrating month. I can blame it on too many holidays, the incessant rains, beginning of festivities etc. I haven’t been able to focus and write on any topic. I have one too many ideas swirling in my head. Each one packed with insights, that I found difficult to write down in one post. I made a list and then struck down one after the other, as the material seemed worthy of PhD thesis, that a blog post wouldn’t justify. That surely is a valid excuse.

Since I have no one to hold me accountable for slipping on my self-imposed deadline, I was waiting for that one idea in my mind, to crystallize fully. My colleague reminded me that the month had only few days left and I had not turned out the blog I had promised. He is the only one who is aware of this deadline as I had mentioned it to him at the beginning of the year to remind me if I slipped. I ignored his comment, fully confident that I will be able to write more than one post this month.

With only 2 more days before the month ends, I have the deadline looming large, with nothing to show. Historically the word deadline is a boundary wall around a prison, crossing which meant the prisoners would be shot. It is interesting to see how the word has evolved to mean a boundary of time, something we are imprisoned by today. Just like rushing to cross the prison boundary would have given an adrenaline rush, a fast approaching deadline seems to have a similar effect. People claim to get incredibly creative as they get closer to the deadline. I personally believe this is just a claim, as no one truly knows what the output could’ve have been like, if it was completed ahead of time, and refined further..

I admire people who work with deadlines almost every day and produce high-quality output. I recently read about Ann Wroe who writes the obituary in The Economist. There are many regular readers of this paper who will start by reading the obituary first, I do the same, for the beauty with which the essence of a person’s life is captured after they are gone. I always imagined it was a big team that took turns to write these pieces in advance. I was surprised to learn that it was just one woman who has been writing these 1000 word eulogies for many years. She has only 36 hours to write these from the time the editorial team takes a call on who gets the honour. Definitely in this instancethe deadline seems to let her get to the peak of her writing prowess.

Others though seem to have different relationships to deadline. My son for example believes that things will magically work out, as he remembers that he needs to complete his homework or submit something to the class, only 30 minutes before he is to board the school bus at 6 am. At that early hour, even magic cannot make things happen. My tech developer starts delivering only when he is told repeatedly that this is a non-negotiable deadline, till then it is just a moving target. Then there is this group of senior finance leaders that we are working with in a leadership program. At the end of every session they have an assignment and a submission date to complete it. Typically, in such programs at least a few people start sending in their response 3-4 days before the deadline. In this instance, it was radio silence. I sent a reminder stating that the submission date was only 1 day away and received a barrage of mails saying that they were working towards the last date and were surprised by my request to send in earlier. This revealed how tuned they were to submitting things only on the last date, just before the deadline.

Waiting for deadlines seems to be almost hardwired in humans. Why else would people wait till the last date to file the taxes or submit the bid for a contract? Similarly, whether it is registering for the Aadhaar identity card or the voters list, unless there is a deadline people don’t seem to wake up. I also know some folks in sales who will wait for the last week before the closing and rush to meet their targets. The psychologists have named this tendency as the planning fallacy, where the human brain underestimates the time it takes to complete a task, allowing for procrastination. I was a victim of this phenomenon.

I now feel relieved that I managed to stick to my self-imposed deadline. I also enjoyed that bit of adrenaline rush writing this blog about the power of deadlines. The only worry is that, for next month, I will have to write on some serious topic and not come up with reasons for procrastination nor can I write a blog about writing this blog!


Featured image explained: The image is a page from the book “The Dot” written by Peter H Reynolds. It is an uplifting story of a little girl who finds out that she can be an artist too, when her teacher recognizes a little dot that she jabs on the paper, as a piece of art. She decides to draw more dots, and even draw a dot without drawing a dot. 

Image source: https://turtleandrobot.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/just-make-a-mark-and-see-where-it-takes-you/

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