The Creative Power of Deadlines

Friday 16 March 2018 - Posted by Julia McCutchen

Love them or hate them, deadlines are an integral part of living a creative life that includes sharing your creations with others.

Some people relish the pressure and feel they come alive and do their best work in the 11th hour.

Others experience such a strong degree of contraction from the stress that their inspiration shuts down and they end up driving themselves forcefully towards completion, often feeling depleted and dissatisfied with the end result.

A High Priority

My relationship with deadlines is somewhere between these two extremes.

During my publishing career, I worked to cut-off dates at every stage of the process from the author delivering the manuscript to the print date when no further changes could be made.

Meeting deadlines was a high priority and carried all the way through to making sure that finished copies were delivered to the right place at the right time when authors were engaged in promotional activities like book signings.

Honour the Commitment

Having crossed the threshold to become an author myself and forged my own path over the last 20 years creating courses, classes, products and retreats, I certainly have more say in the time frames I’m working to now.

However, there’s always a requirement to decide when something is going to happen and then follow through to make that a reality to honour the commitment – to myself and to others.

Of course, when I’m involved in something that’s being organised by someone else, I’m required to respect their timing and be ready to show up at the agreed moment.

Where You Are in the Creative Process

One of the things I’ve learnt is that where you are in the creative process with whatever project you’re working on plays a key role when it comes to your relationship with deadlines.

When I started writing my latest book, for example, I made a conscious decision not to give myself a target date to complete the writing by.

I wanted to have an abundance of time and space to follow the golden thread of inspiration and explore the content I was in the early stages of developing at the deepest level to live the truth of every single word.

A Pre-determined Time Frame

I felt that setting a pre-determined time frame would compromise that; so I dipped in and out of the writing alongside my other commitments.

In the end, it took me a whole year to write what became Part 1 of the book.

The Landscape of Time

At that point, I decided to explore publishing options in the knowledge that would potentially change the landscape in terms of timing.

When I signed the contract with Hay House a few months later, all of a sudden I had just 5 months to write the remaining 3 sections!

Mission Accomplished

I wasn’t sure if I could do it but by this time I was in deep flow with the essence of my content and the words which provided the forms to share my ideas and experience with others.

I felt in complete trust that everything was working out just as it was meant to; so I took a deep breath and signed on the dotted line.

Sure enough, despite some major life challenges along the way, 5 months later the manuscript was successfully completed and it truly felt like “mission accomplished” for me at every level.

Commitment, Focus and Presence

The contractual deadline had triggered a quantum leap in my commitment which came at the right time in my creative process; I was ready as one can ever be to take such a leap.

The resulting shift brought a new level of focus to my flow, and I was delightfully surprised to discover the sweet spot between the two which has become a blend I’ve consciously worked with ever since.

Perhaps even more importantly, it brought me into a deeper and more prolonged experience of living in the present moment where all true creation happens.

Raising the Bar

My relationship with deadlines has evolved over time and my preference these days is not to work to as many non-negotiable time limits as I used to.

However, I have repeatedly experienced the creative power that specified time frames have for raising the bar on making conscious choices about what’s truly important and showing up to do the work.

Positive Accountability

I also see this play out regularly for the people I work with as a mentor.

In fact, the positive accountability of the mentoring process where writing or agreed creative assignments are submitted by a specific date is a significant factor in the considerable progress people make.

Practise Setting Deadlines

My recommendation for you in relation to this is to reflect on where you are right now in your creative process and decide if you’re ready to practise setting a deadline to work to.

If you’re still developing your ideas, you may choose to leave it for a while and come back to explore this way of working later.

Before You’re Under Contract

However, if you’ve been mulling things over for some time and don’t yet have anything to show for it, choosing a date to work towards may be just the trigger you need to shift you forwards.

It’s certainly worth finding out how you get on when you have a deadline to meet before you’re under contract to deliver your work to someone else!

Perhaps the moment to practise that is now?

What is your relationship with deadlines? Are you an 11th hour person or do you need more time and space to do your best work? Please share your comments and experience or ask a question below. Thank you!

Further Resources

If you’d like some intuitive guidance and support to make progress with your ideas and project(s) through individual mentoring, there’s a new 6 month series starting in April with 3 places available. Read more here.

You can also book a Free Discovery Session to discuss it with me by completing the details in the purple box at the bottom of the page.


  • Julia, your topics and your thoughts, are always helpful and inspiring. Most of my deadlines are self-imposed. Ultimately they all are, in the sense that I’ve contracted with someone for something. For me, without deadlines, there would be little action. Especially in an area like writing, where no one else usually cares if I get it done or not.

    I think about three levels:

    1. Intention – this is usually global. e.g.”‘I am a writer. I write at least 5 day a week. I intend to finish and submit this book by the end of this year.” I carry my intention MENTALLY with me at all times.

    2. Goal – this is shorter term,usually weekly or monthly, should be measureable. e.g. “I will write a chapter a week.” I keep a list of written goals, at my work desk.

    3. To do – this is a very specific, daily item, part of a list that sits next to my computer and calls (sometimes rudely and too loud!) to me. e.g. “2 hrs. today – outline the next chapter.”

    I rarely get all of my to do’s done, but having this 3 part framework helps me a lot, keeps me focused and enables me to let go of things that I just can’t get done today, even though I’d hoped.

    I think that one of the things a writer has to be really good at is managing him/herself. Your ideas and blogs have been so helpful to me in this regard. Thanks again, Peter

    • Hi Peter, thank you – as always – for your thoughtful and helpful comment. It can be harder to respect self-imposed deadlines; yet finding the balance between stretching to meet them whilst giving yourself the leeway to follow the flow comes with practice and experience – both of which are invaluable.

      Yes, I know what you mean about there being little action without deadlines! When I’m invited to do something that doesn’t have a deadline, it always takes much longer for me to get to it as my focus is always on the projects that DO have a deadline or which are high on my priority list.

      Your three levels looks like a great system and I’m sure that other readers will benefit from adopting something similar so thanks for sharing that. Letting go of what hasn’t been done and focusing on what has each day in itself is an important practice. In fact I wrote a blog on this, see here.

      And I couldn’t agree more that managing ourselves, our priorities and our time as creative souls who write is the all important grounded focus we need to bring our work to fruition, and more!

      I’m delighted to know that my blogs are helping you with that and thank YOU for your comments Peter. Till next time… Julia

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