When I set my contract deadline after selling a book, I carefully calculate enough time to write the first draft and then I add an extra two weeks for revisions. Invariably I encounter some problem that has me burning the midnight oil to get the book done on time and I usually don’t have two weeks to revise. This is because (invariably) I encounter rough spots that sometimes take days to iron out. But, if I didn't have that deadline staring me in the face, I’m pretty certain it would take me weeks to deal with the difficulties rather than days. Deadlines force me to put my hands on the keyboard and deal with the issue. Now. I may not get it right immediately, but I make headway and discover new things about the story. And desperation does amazing things to creativity. Ideas I hadn’t even considered appear out of nowhere, and oftentimes they work. Hurray for deadlines!
I've also used the desperation deadline approach in my non-writing life. When my daughter, who lives in another city, decided to bring her boyfriend home to meet us, my husband and I decided to do some interior renovations before the visit. This ensured that we would actually finish the nine or ten projects we started simultaneously. We had to get everything done BtBA--Before the Boyfriend Arrives. And we did. Hurray for deadlines. We burned some midnight oil there, too.
I use unofficial deadlines all the time. I’m going to lose four pounds before the last day of school. I’m going to clean one room every evening for a week. I’m going to sort one drawer a day until they’re all done. This ploy works, for a while, but there’s nothing like a desperation deadline to really get things done.
How about you? Do you need deadlines? Or avoid them at all costs?