Deadlines are not lifelines. Why do we have them? I have a looming deadline. You know the kind – the one that keeps you awake at night worrying if you will make it. Then, of course, you are too tired in the day to do the work to make it!

In the past I have done my best work when there is a deadline. It focuses my mind and gets the thoughts racing. These past few months however I haven’t been able to concentrate. I have blamed the many distractions in my world – very poorly dogs, following up on business leads to enable payment of the vet’s bills for the very poorly dogs, three kids and the back to school nonsense of uniform buying, packed lunches and school buses, the husband’s injured ankle meaning he cannot drive, the everyday hum drum of household chores and family life. You know how it is, we are all busy.

What a small but annoyingly significant word. Busy. The days roll by and the productivity seems to ebb away. I have a friend who never uses the word ‘busy’ because she recognises busy for her is a permanent state of affairs. I see it much like the word ‘change’, it is everywhere and all the time. So why acknowledge both these as something separate from everyday life? By acknowledging ‘busy’ you almost create a feeling of failure before starting. Our self talk chunters on; “I am too busy” “I can’t fit it in, but I must”. Deadlines, pressure, work, life – it feels like you should be able to fit it all in. But why? We put so many false deadlines on ourselves, our work and our lives.

My house has a leaky roof, only a little one but gradually the brown stain on the ceiling is growing. We literally have no idea when either of us will be able to find the time to get someone in to fix it. It will get worse. Eventually the time will emerge and it will be dealt with. I could say to myself we HAVE to fix the roof now! Deadlines. Pressure. Failure. I’d rather say to myself, whatever, it’s a small leak that only leaks when it rains, so we’ll pray for sun. Increasingly I have come to accept this mañana side of myself. My younger self would have soooooo stressed about the leak, the vet’s bills, the hum drum. My younger self beat herself up over deadlines. But they really don’t matter.

So I have been surprised to see a reappearance of my younger self with my current looming deadline. Why am I so concerned? She is not me anymore, but she well and truly rocked up on this one. Weird. Deadlines. Pressure. Failure. Or so I thought. Turns out it is not actually the deadline which has been keeping me awake. I have an underactive thyroid and a recent routine blood test showed my thyroxine dose is too high. The night sweats, the racing heart, the insomnia – not early menopause, as I had imagined, rather me slowly poisoning myself with drugs that I have been taking for years. It didn’t even occur to me that they are the reason why I have an in depth knowledge of the darkness of my bedroom. In the busy-ness I’ve forgotten to pay attention to myself, my present self. Ironic really that I wasn’t very present.

Armed with more courage, yesterday I had a conversation with the organisation for whom the deadline is set. I face this morning with renewed, fresh vigour because they happily extended the deadline. They were honest, as was I, and they were more than understanding and reasonable about expectations. I face today empowered, refreshed and ready to complete the work. Nothing has changed with the work (nor me, as my medication is the same as I wait to see a doctor). The only thing which is different today than yesterday is I no longer have a looming and overwhelming deadline. And it feels GREAT!

We create artificial goals and aspirations, and we set deadlines. Don’t get me wrong, having goals is good. Having goals means things get done. But I think we need to chill a bit on when things get done. Time created pressures are a nonsense. Telling time is an arbitrary construct of industrial revolution man to get people out of fields and into factories. We used to rise by the sun and fall by the moon when it came to work. 9-5 is an invention. And it needs a reinvention. The world will keep turning. The dogs will want walking. The birds will keep singing. Sometimes stopping to feel the world turn around you, to walk the dogs and to listen to the birds is the best medicine.

On this #WorldMentalHealthDay I urge you to have a conversation if you have a looming deadline which is causing you stress. Be honest. I urge you to slow down and listen to your body. Be clear. I urge you to release others you work with from artificial deadlines. Be brave. You may be creating a lifeline for someone. Deadlines are not lifelines.

I wrote this blog on the encouragement of a conversation with Margaret Burnside, who possibly didn’t even realise she sparked it. You never know who you are influencing in this world. Thanks for the nudge, Mags.