Productivity and DEATHGROUNDS

Back to the wall. Beware the pikes, hooks, and halberds…

You are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Since nothing seems urgent to you, you are only half involved in what you do. The only way to change is through action and outside pressure. Put yourself in situations where you have too much at stake to waste time or resources — if you cannot afford to lose, you won’t.

Robert Green, “The 33 Strategies of War”

A lot of people say they work well under pressure. Maybe you’re like this:

Pressure produces productivity.

There’s something about pressure that drives us to do better… Not necessarily “rushing” the work, but they say it takes a lot of pressure to produce a diamond.

Many creative projects done outside of work (blogging, doing art, designing games) lack pressure to them. “I’m not in the mood right now.” “I’ll get it done on my own time.” “Maybe next weekend.”

But you work well under pressure. And the soft (aka self-imposed) deadlines don’t cut it.

You can fabricate and intensify pressure. And use it to your advantage.

Hernan Cortes did this. When he and his Spanish conquistador comrades landed on the shores of the New World, he did something very important: he ordered that their own ships be burned. Their backs were now up against the wall in hostile territory; no escape, no backing down, no cowardice. He established what Robert Greene calls in his book The 33 Strategies of War a “DEATHGROUND” (yes, all-caps are necessary, why?).

That pressure forces action, forces productivity. Establishing a real and present scarcity of time means that you must do something. You cannot choose to not decide.

So do it you must. And you get things done.

I did this all through my college years.

I’m proactively lazy. If there’s something I know won’t go away, I deal with it so my future self doesn’t have to. I can be lazy later and with fewer things on my plate. One of the ways I would tackle problems is to establish DEATHGROUNDS to get things done.

For example, say it’s Thursday and you have two things due, one on Friday and one on Monday. The DEATHGROUND here is that hard deadline, established by someone else (school, work, spouse) and failure isn’t an option. Instead of first tackling the Friday assignment, the one that is due sooner, do the Monday assignment. Then do the Friday assignment and turn it all in together.

Enjoy your weekend.

Crazy? Yes. Does it work? Yes. I’ve done it for almost five years now, at least once every week. Hasn’t failed me yet.

How does this apply to your creative projects? The ones with the soft deadlines? Pair them up with hard deadlines. Do the creative stuff first, then the “real” work stuff.

Crazy? Um, yeah.

Let’s put it this way: what is the thing you’re thinking about at that moment? What’s taking up brain space? Are you really going to be able to focus on the work you MUST do with that rolling around in your head? And when you do that thing you HAVE to do, are you going to have energy left to do the creative project?

Plus there’s the rush, the high, that comes with the pressure to finish. It’s now a race. Ready to run?

Isn’t it great when the advice boils down to “eat your cake first because there are benefits?”

There are caveats.

Caveat #1 is that you MUST get that hard deadline done. You must eat your carrots after having cake. If you struggle with meeting basic deadlines, as in you aren’t skilled enough/equipped to do the task without the added pressure, don’t listen to me. This is an advanced tip. Don’t fall behind on work because of something a guy on the internet said.

Caveat #2 is to avoid the soft deadlines that never end. “Start and finish making this 20 page RPG before I start this thing due tomorrow” won’t cut it. “Jot down 20 bullet points about the direction and flavor of this game before I get this other thing done” is better.

You gotta capture those elusive strikes of lightning while they’re present. The added heat of a DEATHGROUND focuses your attention and pushes you forward like riding a giant wave.

Game Masters, schedule your next RPG session before you’re “ready” (which is a joke, because when are you actually “ready for anything?”).

Work smart, work hard, make awesome stuff.

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And I, uh, challenged myself to write this all before I start work tomorrow…

DEATHGROUNDS!

Marriage is also a DEATHGROUND. “‘Til death do us part.” Pretty metal. Failure isn’t an option. From the post linked: “Marriage is permanent in the same way that super glue is permanent. You CAN separate the bonded objects, but it usually causes damage to one or both of them.” Locking the door behind yourselves, so to speak, means the only options available are “refuse to change” or “make changes.” Leaving isn’t one of those two.

Weird connection, I know, but that’s what happens when I take a nap between the draft and posting stages.

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