Sprinting Toward the Finish Line!

Sprinting Toward the Finish Line!

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

I have three weeks to go till I graduate from law school. . .

Honestly, just writing that made my heart pound. Allowing myself to think about my impending freedom feels… dangerous- Like just thinking it could throw me off-course or make me lose focus. Like if I dwell on it, even a little, it might no longer be true.

So instead of thinking about the finish line, I’m throwing myself into my work. Routine and discipline have become my best friends.

In fact, any approach other than consistent productivity would probably result in a series of nervous breakdowns. I simply have too much to learn before my oral exams begin (yes, that’s right, ORAL exams, thank you European system). If I didn’t work, I would panic.

In this situation my productivity is absolutely, 100%, a slave to external pressure.

I mean, up until a week ago, the idea of memorizing the conditions under which mortgages can be placed on personal property in Denmark made me want to chop my fingers off. And now I can do it (1. goods placed stationary for continuous use, 2. at the owner’s expense, 3. for the benefit of the real property).

The Pain of Working vs The Pain of Not Working

Before the deadline began galloping toward me, studying was painful. Excruciatingly painful. But now, the pain of NOT working has exceeded the pain of working.

You see, it’s not just the deadline. It’s pain. Pain is the motivating force here.

I actually believe that pain is the motivating force behind most change. People will allow themselves to be bored, discontent, and unhappy for a really long time. A situation that is tolerable- be it a job, relationship, unhealthy lifestyle, etc., may be unpleasant, but at least it’s familiar.

Comfort = Danger

If something is only mildly uncomfortable, we will typically stay put to avoid change. Time will slip by and pain will build slowly as regret begins to sink in. Excruciating pain, on the other hand, is far more helpful because it forces action. But subtle pain? That’s dangerous business.

How to Motivate Yourself when There is No External Pressure

All this talk of graduation has got me thinking about my post-graduation self-employed life. Certainly the deadline-based approach will no longer be the motivating force behind my productivity.

In my last post, I asked for some productivity suggestions for when there are no deadlines. Here is my answer along with some of the suggestions I received:

1. In the Words of Tony Robbins, ‘Get Disturbed’

Try to hit that low point as quickly as possible. Think about what will happen if you don’t take action now. Imagine yourself looking back, feeling regret because you didn’t travel the world, start that band or get out of that dysfunctional relationship soon enough. Lost time is the scariest thing in the world. Remind yourself of that. Thinking about death helps too. :)

2. Light Yourself on Fire (Not Literally)

If there’s something you can do that will raise the stakes, do it! As my friend Many succinctly put it:

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 business. This has placed a financial stress that forces me to kick myself in the ass. No protectiveness = no job = empty bank account!

3. Work a Little Every Day

Fabian from The Friendly Anarchist suggested ‘micro productivity, consistency and doing less’. I couldn’t agree more.

You need to get into the habit of working on your goal(s) every day. The best way to do this is to make it a part of your daily schedule. Slot it into your magic time if possible and then make it an unalterable part of your daily routine. Don’t try to accomplish too much during this time. Instead do less, but do it consistently.

4. Make Your Goal Action-Based, not Results-Based

You want to feel proud of yourself whether or not you produce something that will ultimately be a part of the final product. Simply getting yourself to work is the goal here. You don’t need to produce gold. Just put in the time, pat yourself on the back, and close up shop till the following day.

5. Set your own Deadline

What’s great is if you can find a real deadline of some sort. When I was writing my spec script, I decided that I would submit it to this prestigious writing Fellowship. It wasn’t the reason I was initially writing my script, but I used the external deadline to my advantage anyway. I knew that no matter what, that I would be mailing out my script on July 1 and I would feel incredibly disappointed in myself if I missed that deadline.

6. Get an Accountability/Support Buddy

Tell a friend about your project and your goals. Not just any friend will do. You want to pick someone who’s going to pull you up short if you do not meet your goals. It should also be someone who will encourage you along the way and help get you through those dark times when you wonder if it’s all worthwhile.

Barbara Sher is famous for saying that ‘isolation is the dream-killer’. It’s so true. You absolutely need to make yourself accountable to someone and you need that support. Maybe your friend also has a goal that you can help them with? Schedule regular times to check in on how things are going for both of you.


I devoted a whole section of The ‘Undeclared for Life’ Manifesto to productivity. Check it out (it’s free). It’s been getting some nice reviews, which is pretty awesome. :)

What do you guys think of these productivity tips? Anything to add?

(Gotta get back to the studying now. eek!)


  1. Thank you Emilie! These are some good tips, and I don’t say that because some of them come from me. ;)
    The only one I’m a bit wary of is the one by Tony Robbins. Driving yourself crazy may work, but I feel it lacks both heart and style. Much better to take Many’s approach and just create facts that force you to act, as far as I am concerned.

    • Emilie says:

      I hear what you’re saying. I threw it in because there have been times when it was the only thing that helped me. It’s rare, but occasionally I just need to hit rock bottom before I can take action. It probably depends on what area of life we’re talking about too. Perhaps that one is more applicable to things like destructive relationships or unhealthy lifestyle patterns- things that are really hard to break out of.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment and the tips Fabian!

  2. Rob says:

    During my last term at university, things became extremely difficult for me. I felt like I was pretty much having a nervous breakdown as I’d taken on WAAAY to much…. more than anyone else on my course, mainly because I didn’t plan my modules properly.

    But it was only through putting myself in a situation like that, that I managed to know exactly where my mental limits were. And I well and truly exceeded them. It took me about 2-3 months to get over the exhaustion of working so hard for so long, while holding down a job and not having a day off in months.

    When I tried to take a couple of days off, I’d become so ill, and couldn’t eat because of the stress and the feeling of guilt that came over me because I wasn’t working.

    All of this sounds like hell, and it was. But at the end of the day, I kept with it, and within 5 weeks had managed to write 24,000 words of pretty hardcore philosophy, and revise for 9 hours worth of exams. Any pressure I come under now feels like nothing compared to those weeks, and so everything else seems like much less of a challenge. Everything seems far more achievable.

    If just goes to show that near enough every cloud DOES have a silver lining…. :)

    • Emilie says:

      Wow Rob, that’s intense! Good for you man. I’ve had end of semesters that felt like this… maybe not quite as bad, but close. There is something about pushing yourself to your limits that is very fulfilling and leaves you feeling totally empowered.

      How do you feel immediately after it ends though? I’ve noticed that the few days after exams and everything have ended, I tend to get almost depressed.. Like I no longer know what to do with myself. It’s a weird feeling. Usually passes once I get into a new routine though. But still… interesting.

  3. jesse says:

    I have been pushing myself too hard racking my brains and tying to get my foot on the ground. I think am pushing too hard. I pick the tip about, taking it one bit at a time, working towards my goal everyday.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Jesse,

      Balance is definitely key. Sometimes it’s good to have an intense period of productivity. But if you do that for too long, you can get burnt out. Also, I think it’s smart to give your brain some off time between the brainstorming sessions. I find that it’s often when I’m doing something completely unrelated to my work that I’m hit with the inspiration.

      Thanks for the comment.

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