Even in pre-Colombian times, the Maya had cubicle workers tasked with completing highly non-essential TPS reports by 5 p.m. each Friday. (It’s a little-known fact that TPS reports, rather than European disease or fratricidal wars, led to the demise of the Maya civilization. Let that be a lesson to us.) If the cubies failed to complete their reports on time, they were sent to spend the weekend in the company of Au Puch, the Maya God of Death. None ever returned to work Monday morning. This is where the term “deadline” comes from.
Such a foreboding word. Perhaps if the Internatinal Council on Words ‘n Things were to change deadline to “happyline” or “relaxline,” we wouldn’t get so worked up about it. I, I’ve been told, don’t have that problem. I was a senior in journalism school, in the last weeks of my college education and preparing the conquer the world of TV news, when a professor sat me down for a heart-to-heart. I won’t divulge his name, but the professor told me I might consider a profession other than TV news.
Was I a poor writer? A poor editor?
Did I have a face for radio?
That issue can’t be addressed in one meeting.
The issue is deadlines. You don’t get excited about them.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t miss any deadlines. I just didn’t whoop and holler and get all sweaty as they approached. I assumed that was an advantage, but the instructor believed I wasn’t cut out to handle deadline pressure. I thought an even-tempered person would be better-suited to deliver quality on deadline than someone a bit more high-strung. (Here’s an excellent example of this.) And no, I don’t think the guy was practicing reverse psychology.
Here’s my approach to deadlines: I know I ain’t perfect (and not just my grammar). If I work at something until it’s perfect, I’ll miss every deadline. When I had to get a story ready for the six o’clock news, it wasn’t always pretty. I wished it had been, but a perfectly written and edited story wasn’t worth jack squat at 6:31. I remember, as a kid, hearing of the Navajo tradition of intentionally including one mistake in woven rugs, because only God is perfect. I’ve never forgotten that, and I often include multiple mistakes in my work just to make sure no one confuses me with God.
Deadlines for creative people, whether they come from an editor, boss, mate, or the voice in our head, keep us honest. They keep us moving forward. They get our stuff out there where people can see and react to it. I can look back at anything I’ve produced a year or two later and cringe. I could let that be another form of paralysis, like this example, or I can do my best in the time I have and take my lumps knowing my stuff won’t be perfect, yet good enough to avoid a weekend at Ah Puch’s.