Always work with deadlines.

The frustration, or the feeling of being blocked, has a purpose.

Robert Greene writes in his book Mastery about Albert Einstein giving up on the problem of general relativity. One night, he threw in the towel. Enough is enough—I’ll never solve it! “He went to bed early, and when he awoke the solution suddenly came to him.”

The composer Richard Wagner also had a similar story. He had worked so hard on his opera Das Rheingold that he became completely blocked. Beyond frustration, he took a long walk in the woods, lay down, and fell asleep. “In a sort of half dream, he felt himself sinking in swiftly flowing water. The rushing sounds formed into musical chords…These chords became the prelude of the opera, a leitmotif that runs throughout it, and one of the most astonishing pieces he had ever written.”

And this story is insane:

“Among the thousands of stories of great insights and discoveries, perhaps the strangest one of all is that of Evariste Galois, a promising student of mathematics in France who in his teens revealed exceptional brilliance in algebra. In 1831, at the age of twenty, he became embroiled in a quarrel over a woman, which resulted in his being challenged to a duel. The night before the duel, certain he was going to die, Galois sat down and tried to summarize all of the ideas on algebraic equations that had been troubling to him. He wrote all night at a feverish pitch. The next day, as he had foreseen, he died in the duel, but in the ensuing years his notes were read and published, leading to a complete revolution in higher algebra. Some of his scribbled notes indicated directions in mathematics that were so far ahead of his time, it is hard to fathom where they came from.”

This is an extreme example, but it illustrates a powerful point about the need for tension in your projects. If you feel like you have an infinite supply of time to complete something, then your brain takes its time and paces itself. In fact, that mentality can be debilitating to a project.

Your lack of intensity makes it hard for your brain to jolt into a higher, creative gear.

That’s why it’s important that you always work with deadlines, whether manufactured or real.

Think about Thomas Edison talking to the press about inventions that he hadn’t figured out yet. He was promoting something that hadn’t been invented. Elon Musk of SpaceX does this today. The famed Steve Jobs was infamous for this.

The greatest inventors in modern history always worked with deadlines. And they stuck to them so much that it unlocked a deeper creative genius in their work.

Some quick ideas on types of deadlines:

  • 15 minutes to write an article that’s due.
  • 60 minutes to compose that essay you’ve been putting off.
  • 10 minutes to read through the proposal and formulate a few questions for that board meeting.
  • 10 days to stop eating sugar and drink more water.
  • 30 days to create your idea, show it to 100 potential customers and decide if it’s a right fit for a new company.
  • 5 years to solve a massive problem you’ve been dreaming about.
  • Here’s a good one, forward this email to 10 friends in 30 seconds. :)

There are all sorts of deadlines you can use. If you’re not already building deadlines into your work, projects, company, then start right now.

(photo via world bank)