categories: Uncategorized, development, personal, time management
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July 6th, 2011

by Craig Groeschel

53 comments (+ Add)

The Imaginary Deadline

For years I struggled with managing my time effectively. One tool I learned that dramatically increased my effectiveness is the “imaginary deadline.”

If I’ve got a project without a deadline, it’s easy to procrastinate or work halfheartedly. When an assignment has a hard deadline, I start faster, work smarter and focus better.

  • Instead of thinking, I need to have my sermon finished before I preach this weekend, I have a Wednesday-at-noon deadline. It’s not anyone else’s deadline. It’s mine.
  • Rather than saying this video needs to be finished by next week, I complete all videos by Wednesday at 2 pm. Again, this is my deadline.
  • Instead of deciding to read my Bible plan some time during the day, I have mine read before I leave my house.

These are all imaginary deadlines. But when I treat them as real, my productivity and efficiency increase.

I’d love to hear from you if you do something similar.

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there are a total of53
  1. Jul 6, 2011 at 7:05 am

    I do the same thing. I read my Bible and have some prayer time before I do anything else. Otherwise it ends up on the backburner and sometimes doesn’t happen. I also have deadlines during the week. :)

  2. Jul 6, 2011 at 7:09 am

    I did that all through college. I would tell myself that a paper or project was due a week ahead of time so I wouldn’t be last minute or rushed on it. I should totally try that with reading the word. I hadn’t thought of that one. I am actually thinking about the Bible in 90 on YouVersion.

  3. 3Susie Williamson
    Jul 6, 2011 at 7:10 am

    I guess mine would be similar to yours. I can not do anything else after i get up in the morning until i have read my bible and spent time in prayer.

  4. Jul 6, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Deadlines are AMAZING! Without them it’s easy to set stuff aside. Without them it’s easy to get sidetracked with unnecessary stuff. One thing I’ve learned, at least for me, is that a deadline must be within reach. If it’s too far out I’ll procrastinate. If it’s too short I’ll stress. Gotta find balance.

  5. Jul 6, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Great post Craig! I will be sharing this one. I’m a big to-do list kinda of guy but I never really give myself deadlines. I will now. This makes so much sense. Go Win!

  6. 6deb
    Jul 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

    not only do I use imaginary deadlines, I have a to do list which gets transferred to a calendar using those deadlines. Nice to know that it is helpful to others and that I am not just getting old. lol

  7. Jul 6, 2011 at 8:20 am

    I have deadlines!

    But then I realized I need more motivation sometimes. So I hired a friend (who gets paid in beer and coffee… not together) to report to weekly. It helps a lot.

  8. 8AaronS
    Jul 6, 2011 at 8:23 am

    As always, an excellent post. I do have a question though. In your point of view, what distinguishes an “imaginary deadline” that you talk about above from a real deadline?

    Is it that a real deadline is one that you’re given, as opposed to one you set yourself? Or that a real deadline impacts others? I would assume that even your “imaginary deadlines” with sermons and videos have an impact on others, so I wouldn’t think it would be that.

    Of course, the other possibility is that you don’t distinguish between the two because it doesn’t matter :).


  9. 10AaronS
    Jul 6, 2011 at 9:43 am


    Thanks for the clarification. Time for me to give it a shot.

  10. Jul 6, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I think that’s a great post and I am going to start implementing some deadlines. I work in the media department at my church and constantly have new projects popping up that encroach on my stuff which I have mental deadlines for. What’s an effective way to manage this?

  11. 12Glenn
    Jul 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I do the same thing. The sermon will be preached Sunday morning, but my deadline is Friday at lunch.

    I could do my Bible reading whenever I want, but my deadline is before I finish the morning coffee.

    If I live without self-imposed deadlines, I experience self-imposed stress. And self-imposed stress brings me down, puts me in a bad mood and effects everyone around me.

    Thanks for the reminder, Craig!

  12. Jul 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    To be totally honest this is challenging, because I tend to enjoy the crunch and so letting some things go brings about the “rush” that comes at crunch time. The initial “rush” is fun, but the stress it brings into my life isn’t fun. I do take pride in getting the job done, but can see where I have let some of the not so enjoyable tasks slip. Time to set imaginary deadlines.

    When it comes to Bible reading my deadline is anytime before I get to the office otherwise it won’t get done.

  13. Jul 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Good stuff! I’ve had problems with procrastination, but overcame them when I heard the phrase, “Procrastinators: Leaders of Tomorrow.”

    As funny as the phrase is, it made me realize I wouldn’t make a difference if I was a procrastinator. Now, I’m in another procrastination stage. Gotta get off the comp and study!

  14. Jul 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Very Informative - Thank You.

  15. 16Josh
    Jul 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I have got to set these deadlines… if I don’t my ADD kicks in and I’m rushing around at the last minute. These deadlines are crucial for me!

  16. 17Sintya Pappagallo
    Jul 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I have to confess that I’m the same way and looks like many of us are. I also set deadlines for myself and to not cheat on myself, I keep in mind that if I complete what needs to be done now, I’m opening myself up for new opportunities and much more can be accomplished. Thank you!

  17. 18Tess
    Jul 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    What do you do when you continue to push your imaginary deadline out because it doesn’t impact others? :( That’s what I need to have a problem with.

  18. 19Paul Allen
    Jul 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Deadlines provide refresher mental breaks. Completion of a task is very satisfactory, you can change pace, rest & move to the next task. However, ‘creativity’ often breaks deadlines until you feel it has been nailed (in the Holy Spirit)…umm.

  19. 20jimmy hankins
    Jul 8, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Life is an imaginary deadline inferred by expectation and subjective experience. The sun always comes up tomorrow. Bet yer bottom dollar. (grin)

  20. Jul 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    As a wife, mother, pastor’s wife, and principal, I have lived my life full of imaginary and real deadlines. I appreciate your approach on the imaginary, because without them, my life would be full of undue stress. Some things I have learned: 1. If you are type A, it’s ok to rest, even if it seems you are not accomplishing anything. 2. Eating an elephant one bite at a time over several months is much easier than the indigestion caused at one sitting by eating the whole thing. 3. TRY to start fresh every day, with a clean desk. 4. Get rid of the junk in your life-things you don’t need, things you haven’t used, get rid of the mental baggage, lay it at His feet.5. Listen to those you trust. Often they have God inspired ideas that will shrink the elephant. 6. Pray always for direction-David found some small stones when placed in the right place, killed a mighty giant.

  21. Jul 11, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I don’t do this enough. But when I do it is awesome.

  22. 23Bob
    Jul 11, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Craig - I’ve listened to and have read a lot of your stuff and while I enjoy the topics and content, I’m seeing a Scriptural void with your stuff. Where’s the quotes? Where’s the study? If faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word; if the Word is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, etc.; if the Word is a lamp and a light, we need to meditate on Scripture AND be challenged and like the Bereans — searching it daily. You’re the shepherd and thus you set the pace for the flock. Can I lift you up on that in a challenge - not from me, but for you as a leader, to challenge your flock to immerse themselves in the major resource we need as believers - the Word of God?

    God bless you brother!

  23. Jul 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Bob, thanks for your passion about Scripture. We feel the same way about God’s Word! In addition to the Scripture Craig includes in every sermon, we’ve dedicated significant resources as a church to make the Bible freely available to people around the globe through our mobile Bible App called YouVersion. The Bible App has been installed on tens of millions of mobile devices around the world and has been used for billions of minutes to engage with Scripture in hundreds of languages. Like you, we understand the power in God’s Word and are eager to see people everywhere  fall in love with the Bible.

  24. Jul 18, 2011 at 10:01 pm


    I will never forget sharing a meal at Glen Eyrie with the former leader of the Navigators, Jerry White. We talked about this subject and he said, “Ordinary people accomplish extraordinary thing by focusing their lives.” One of the quotes I have never forgotten. It has caused me more than once to sharpen my focus … and my deadlines.


  25. Jul 18, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Also, here is a column I just wrote for Patheos about focus … “Leading, 4 Generations at a Time”

  26. 27Matt DeSmidt
    Jul 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Right now, as an unemployed and seeking youth pastor, I struggle with time management now more than ever. Because I have SO much time to do things I procrastinate EVERYTHING so I have made an imaginary schedule that I follow with certain deadlines so I can stay active and make sure I am being productive in my time with God, etc.

  27. Jul 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    I really need to get back to setting deadlines with my writing. This post was a great reminder of that.

  28. 29nathan palma
    Jul 25, 2011 at 2:50 am

    Yes pastor I do set a deadline for my projects I learned to do this from my time in the marine corp this has help keep my stress levels low lol

  29. Jul 27, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I kinda like the mantra in Hebrews: Do it while today is still called “today”. There are obviously projects that take longer than a day, but prioritize those things that NEED to be done. Grab your tools and go to work while today is called “today”.

  30. Jul 27, 2011 at 9:07 am

    I find that an “imaginary deadline” is only as good as the integrity I have with myself. Speaking for myself, mine is not always the best. For this reason, for my important goals, I have someone I ask to make me accountable. Finding the right person is difficult too. You have to find someone who will actually hold you accountable but someone you deeply respect and look up to so that you don’t want to disappoint them. It seems to be the only way I can motivate myself to get done the important but not urgent things, in my life.

    -Kory Cochran
    Insurance Consultant
    Houston, Tx. 77379

  31. 32Bridget
    Aug 3, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    I used to be focused on deadlines. I know the feeling of self-induced pressure. This is what I’ve learned…In the morning, as I dedicate each new day to the Lord, and meditate on a portion of His Word, He leads me by His spirit; prompting me and guiding me what to do as the day moves along. I just use my calendar for noting events - I don’t do lists anymore unless I have something major to do (i.e. a wedding, a reception, etc)It may sound too simplistic but it works for me, a homeschooling mother of 6. Matthew 11: 28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

  32. Aug 4, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Great ideas. I always had hated when I had to write a message on Friday let alone on Saturday. So Thursday was my deadline. Of course it helped because to do the message I had to complete the outline prior. Something my Administrative Assistant appreciated.

  33. Aug 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    [...] The Imaginary Deadline [...]

  34. Aug 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    “Dead Line”
    Dead –Loss of life
    Line –Boundary

    ….ever get the feeling you’ve researched too many sermons and words?

  35. Aug 31, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Just curious but do you Pastor Craig or any of you others use any apps/software to help you in setting these imaginary/self-imposed deadlines? Just looking for some constant reminders, like my brother back in the day when I owed him money! :)

  36. Sep 2, 2011 at 6:06 am

    [...] here to read the rest of this post and join in the [...]

  37. 38Ken Tran
    Sep 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    @Glenn. Thanks for the post. Very informative… I like how you said without self-imposed deadline will cause self-imposed stress… it really goes back to you being responsible for the responsibilities you have in your life and no one else.

    @Dama. Love the bullet points. Very wise. And you’re quite awesome for carrying all of those roles. I need to go clear my desk. =)

    Have a blessed day, brothers and sisters.

  38. Sep 8, 2011 at 8:03 am

    I have a major problem in my time management and I am able to work on it now. Imaginary deadline is a good start I think. I’m going to take this advice and start it tomorrow.

  39. Sep 21, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    My self-imposed rule is “Thursday by midnight”. This means that everything that needs to be ready for Sunday needs to be ready (at the latest) Thursday by midnight. Sunday is too important to leave things to the last minute, so we prep as much as we can as early as we can.

  40. Oct 19, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I have also realized it’s important to have “imaginary deadlines” for my team and volunteers! Except don’t tell them they are imaginary or else it won’t work…haha. But it’s important for others to know when you expect a project to be completed (even if it’s a flexible date), otherwise it may keep getting put to the side as things come up in their lives. Boundaries with deadlines help spur structure, energy, and productivity! Thanks for the info!

  41. Oct 22, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I have all my life struggled with the same challenge and also discovery having a hard time line or deadline was a help, but sometimes even keeping to that deadline is a challenge. Fortunately I have a loving wife who is great at keeping me to the deadline we set together for our business and our ministry. Thanks for the great articles.

  42. Nov 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Maybe its time to make an imaginary deadline for your next blog post? :) I love this blog

  43. Nov 13, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Love the imaginary deadline trick. The only time it backfires in my experience, is when I’m not alert enough to extend it and realize it’s somewhat self-imposed.

  44. Nov 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    This is funny because I just did this at work. About 20 minutes ago I made my self a goal to get 20 tasks done by 5pm. My deadline (so if i don’t meet it…no one knows)

  45. Nov 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I’m very good at making imaginary deadlines, but not very good at keeping them. I think it’s because there aren’t any tangible consequences for not meeting them. I guess I’m good at meeting imaginary deadlines in certain areas of my life but not good in others.

  46. Nov 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Love it, I think I have to draw some imaginary lines in my week :)


  47. Nov 21, 2011 at 10:43 am

    I’ve never been the best at managing my time, and while I’ve never utilized the “imaginary deadline” trick, I can see how it would be helpful! Thanks for sharing your creative tip—I’m always looking for new ideas that can help me get my work done, as I am a natural procrastinator. Thanks again!

  48. 49caleb mason
    Nov 22, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I love what you guys are doing! Keep it up!

  49. Nov 26, 2011 at 8:08 am

    I am always having so much to do daily such that it is as if the 24 Hours in a day are not enough. I am trying really hard to shed some things that are unnecessary

  50. 51curt
    Dec 30, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Do any of you know of any good books/resources on time management to continue studying on this topic?

  51. Jan 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    This is great! I’m going to try it.

  52. May 29, 2012 at 5:48 am

    Main Line Homes…

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