In our fast-paced, results-oriented world, deadlines are an ever-present aspect of our lives, whether you’re a student cramming for a thesis or a manager shooting for a sales quota. Deadlines, of course, have their purpose but when these become a source of stress, these can actually result in the slow death of your brain and body!
Fortunately, you can turn deadlines from your foes to your friends – or at least, these aren’t the slow killers in your life anymore.
Deadlines’ Impact on Our Brains and Bodies
We have a natural fight-or-flight response activated when our bodies and/or brains feel a threat to our survival. The physiological and physical response happens whether the perceived threat is real or not, and the stress of an upcoming deadline is often considered a real threat to physical and mental health.
Here’s what happens in simple terms. When you see something as a threat, your body starts pumping the fight-or-flight chemicals (e.g., cortisol) that act as its turbo-charge button. You feel anxious, ready to run for your life, if necessary, and even stronger as if you’re ready to take on the world, literally.
But the changes don’t just happen in your body – your brain is just as affected, too! We’re talking about physical changes, too, since studies have shown that as the brain thrives on deadlines, so to speak, the size of its amygdala increases and its frontal lobe decreases.
During the crunch, your emotions are heightened, your adrenaline rush becomes more intense, and you’re running on stress hormones. With each deadline met, you want the adrenaline rush again until such time you’re literally addicted to it! Your brain can only take so much abuse until such time that you’re not forming rational thoughts and creating creative solutions as much as you should have.
Yes, you can still meet deadlines but there’s something missing. Your work seems, well, flat and you’re not satisfied with it anymore. This, my friend, is your plateau and it was partly due to your deadline-beating approach.
Since the body and brain are connected, these changes in the brain also have effects on the body. Your digestive system, for one thing, can go haywire because you’re not eating, sleeping and exercising well just to meet your deadlines. Your health issues may be exacerbated by your increased caffeine intake, perhaps by your intake of stimulants to keep you going past your bedtime.
Deadlines Need Not Be the Death of You
So, what can you do? Deadlines aren’t likely to go away until you’re in retirement! We suggest the following methods of changing your mindset about deadlines and, in so doing, not letting them become the death of you.
- Be more conscious of your diet, exercise and lifestyle habits.
You have to establish a good foundation in your body and it starts with adopting a healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle habits. Your first step may well be significantly decreasing, if not eliminating, your intake of caffeine, alcoholic beverages, and simple carbs including sugar. Your diet should consist of more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fatty fishes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, as well as eat-in smaller portions.
You must look at your schedule and make adjustments so you can exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and sleep for at least 6 hours per night – or per day, if you’re on the graveyard shift. You may even consider taking dietary supplements (e.g., essential omega fatty acids). You should also hydrate with plenty of water since your body and brain thrives on it; coffee and alcohol may boost your attention span but these aren’t recommended for prolonged use.
- Take the right steps toward changing your approach toward deadlines.
When your body’s ready for a change, your brain will have an easier time at it. You have to adopt a gradual approach, of course, in changing your mindset. You’re giving your brain the opportunity to shift from its dependence on the amygdala (i.e., emotions) to its performance based on its frontal lobe (i.e., rational thinking).
Over time, your stress levels decrease and your work outputs’ quality increase! You will also have more time for your personal life. But how can you do it?
- Set an earlier deadline, even if it’s just a few hours early, and work toward meeting it. Reward yourself, such as with a walk on the beach, after meeting it so you’re more motivated afterward.
- Break down a large job into several manageable tasks and set a deadline for each task instead of setting a final deadline for the job. You will be less likely to be intimidated by the job’s scope since you can tackle the specific tasks associated with it.
- Space out the target tasks and their deadlines evenly. With each mini-deadline met, you feel accomplished so you’re more motivated to work on the next task – and the progression continues until you’ve finally finished the job.
- Set a deadline based on the level of difficulty of the job. Basically, difficult tasks should have a deadline further out into the future; moderate tasks should be accomplished within a reasonable period, and easy tasks should have more urgent deadlines. This makes sense since your brain and body will adjust its stress level accordingly.
But avoid procrastinating either just because it’s an easy job or its deadline is still far! Keep in mind that with a sense of urgency, you’re more likely to be more motivated to complete a job.
- Be accountable to others for your progress in meeting a deadline. You will feel more responsible in meeting your goals when you’re held accountable for them, whether you’re accountable to a boss or a friend. You also have a motivator who can provide guidance, perhaps a listening ear, during your progress or lack of it.
- Use tools including apps in meeting your deadline, perhaps in making it more fun than usual. You have online tools like Habitica, EpicWin and Microsoft To-Do, all of which are free, which will not only track your progress but can turn it into a game.
Most important, you should have a sense of responsibility for your work output! You have to take pride in what you do and, in so doing, deliver quality output on time.
Also, check out these 8 Simple Morning Routine to Boost Your Productivity For The Entire Day