‘9 hours till paper’s due…2/25…fml!!!!!!’ or Is Your Productivity a Slave to External Pressure?

‘9 hours till paper’s due…2/25…fml!!!!!!’ or Is Your Productivity a Slave to External Pressure?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

The school system has done us a grave disservice. It has made us reliant on external pressure in order to accomplish anything.

How many people do/did you know in college who started their assignments early, worked a little every day, or set that ‘pretend deadline’ like the teacher suggested? Umm yeah.

Lets face it, most of us procrastinate for weeks, bitch and moan as the deadline approaches, post facebook statuses like ‘9 hours till paper’s due…2/25…fml!!!!!!’ and then finally burst into action and finish in the nick of time. We need the fear and adrenaline that comes along with a fast-approaching deadline. In fact, we’re completely dependent on it. Without it we get zero work done.

School does not teach us how to get things done ourselves. It doesn’t prepare us for a self-directed life. Nope, it prepares us to be good little workers in order to meet our future employers’ deadlines.

And for most people, that’s exactly what happens. They go into the work force, the boss sets deadlines and they meet them. They know this routine well because hey, it’s just like school! Yahtzee.

In a World Without Fire

This is all fine and good if you’re planning on working a traditional job and not pursuing any outside goals ever. But for those of us with our own plans, the deadline-induced approach simply will not cut it.

First of all, in most cases the deadline just doesn’t exist. Nobody’s going to force you to start that bike co-op or write that novel. You’re not going to flunk out of school or lose your job if you don’t backpack through South America for a year.

Second, most long term goals cannot be accomplished in one sitting. They require a little bit of work each day, which amounts to massive results over time. And this is a skill we simply have not cultivated in school. Too often we get intimidated by the massive task before us and are unable to start at all.

The Tortured Artist

Artists sometimes feel as though they have found a way around this. No, there’s no deadline… What motivates them instead? CREATIVE INSPIRATION!

Some of the artists I know don’t work at all until they are hit with that divine inspiration. Such are the people who make statements like: “I only work when I’m inspired,” or “you can’t force the creative process”.

This is just as bad as relying on a deadline. Both approaches make our ability to produce entirely dependent on external circumstances. They are cop-outs that allow us to blame other things for our lack of productivity. Plus, they’re risky and can lead to things like writers’ block, because you know, what happens if inspiration never strikes again?!

The truth is, If you ever want to produce anything meaningful, you must take responsibility for your own productivity.


I want to know how you motivate yourself to work when there’s no deadline or external pressure? Share your process in the comments below.


  1. hk says:

    i often feel inspired about things which i am passionate about. For instance, i play a lot of baseball and i invest a lot of my spare time to improve myself. many of my teammates don’t share my enthusiasm, they just show up and give whatever they have. I believe I do best if i enjoy what im doing cuz then it never feel likes work.

    • Emilie says:

      Good point hk. I have a friend who actually just told me the same thing- that you don’t need deadlines when you’re doing what you love. And I agree, I’ve found that to be true when I’m taking part in an organized program (or sport, as in your case). But when I’m left up to my own devices, even working on my passions can be a struggle.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Marco says:

    I started using the rubber band on the wrist approach with good results!

  3. First off, I wanna give you props for finding the motivation to truck forward with your project, and that in a foreign country. Come to think of it, this might be what is helping you.

    This post deals with a problem that is mega problematic for self employed people and entrepreneurs as myself. You are bang on when you suggest that school doesn’t cater to this skill development because the reality is that most people end up with bosses (although this is a bad reason not to approach the issue). I have been working for myself for two years and I can say with confidence that it has only been a few months since I have learned how to plan things out for myself. And I still have a long way to go before I feel that I will be as productive as I can be.

    My mini solution has been to set fire to my own world. One major decision that I made was not to get another job and to solely concentrate on my film production busyness. This has place a financial stress that forces me to kick myself in the ass.
    No protectiveness = no job = empty bank account!

    • Emilie says:

      Ou you just gave me an idea for another blog post! I think you’re spot on with creating your own fire. That’s sort of what motivated me to move so fast and hard with Puttylike… impending graduation/unemployment! Also moving to a new country and knowing that if I don’t figure my financial shit out, I’ll be forced to move back home… In the words of Tony Robbins, all these things turned productivity from a “should” to a “must”. :)

      Thanks for the comment Many. Always nice to hear from you.

  4. Christine says:

    In all probability there is only external motivation. When one examines the biological constructs on which everything about us is based, this is a sound hypothesis. If we are compelled to action by the images of destitution or institutions that too is a response to the external. If one is actually in the nadir then the drive to survive is internal; if, however, one is dealing only with the threat, then that is external.

    It may be that the only time we are not slave to external motivators in the general course of life in the non-subsistence/non-war zone lives is when we are within the flow such as when we are spontaneously creative because of a flash of inspiration unconnected to any “commodity” or planned activity. Perhaps beneficence like creativity is an internal motivator as it too can engender feelings of peaceful energy within and unrelated to externalities.

    Could seeking this inner quietude defy the principle of avoidance of externally linked negatives which is our primary drive?

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