Real Artists Ship: The Value Of A Firm, Hard Deadline

Filed as Features on November 8, 2007 8:07 am

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Blogging is by and large a solitary activity. The average, self-employed blogger writes out of the comfort of home in their pajamas, thankfully miles away from a grumpy manager fretting over a deadline and micro-managing each click of the keyboard.

Granted, lack of a boss can initially feel like freedom – but as the initial fun fades away and blogging begins to feel like work, that blogger soon realizes that they must become their own manager.

Over the past few weeks I’ve taken on more freelance work than usual (in addition to the day job), while still managing to squeeze out a blog post or two a day. But whenever I get to a place where I’m managing several long-term projects simultaneously, I’m quickly underwater with each in a state of incompleteness, their resolution at some point just out of reach. This is when work really, really feels like work, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

But I do have a short bit of motivational advice that I find inspirational at times of overwork. It’s a simple, short phrase attributed to Steve Jobs while pushing a team of worn-out engineers to complete the original Macintosh:

“Real artists ship”.

I first read the phrase in the book Insanely Great by Steven Levy (it’s about the history of Apple Computer):

Perhaps the most telling epigram of all was a three-word koan that Jobs scrawled on an easel in January 1983, when the project was months overdue. REAL ARTISTS SHIP… One’s creation, quite simply, did not exist as art if it was not out there, available for consumption, doing well… to make a difference in the world and a dent in the universe, you had to ship.

It’s a philosophical question that states all our pre-planning, best intentions, well-meaning efforts, and dutiful toil are for naught – if at the end of the day, nothing “ships” and there is no end result.

Personally, I find the phrase a great way to combat the specter of procrastination and also the morass of good intentions – saying I’ll do something but never quite getting around to it, or getting ninety percent there and then throwing up my hands in frustration. The phrase means that by giving up early, or never meeting the deadline, I’ve failed.

And there is an interesting side result of putting this phrase into action: you absolutely must have a deadline – and one that is firmly set in stone. There is no point in a deadline that aimlessly shifts.

(If your goal doesn’t really have a firm deadline… just lie to yourself.)

Learning to ship just comes down to action and results:

1. Write down what you want to achieve.
2. Pick a firm (but realistic) deadline.
3. Come up with a plan to put into action that can be broken down into clear, measurable steps (milestones).
4. Just do it.

Easier said than done; I know. I certainly don’t have everything totally under control. But because I have a deadline, a plan, and the knowledge to complete each project, I feel like I’m making progress on a daily basis.

Soon, the milestones will begin to fall away, largely due to the firm deadline and imaginary vision of Steve Jobs scribbling on an easel.

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  1. By Justin Tadlock posted on November 8, 2007 at 9:56 am
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    Setting deadlines is something I’m trying had to do. Since my main income isn’t from blogging, I sometimes think that this isn’t important. Now, with six or seven major projects falling more and more behind, my attitude is starting to change. I’ll have to remember “Real artists ship” to keep me going.

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  2. By Ian posted on November 8, 2007 at 11:02 am
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    I can see how defining milestones will work when applying them to a product with a client and an reward for the product. But I find this a little more abstract an idea when dealing with blogging.

    What milestones do you define Jason and how do you measure them?

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  3. By Webomatica posted on November 8, 2007 at 1:29 pm
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    In regards to the blog, earlier this year I had a list of goals that were pretty out of reach (target # of uniques, certain amount of revenue) and subjects I wanted to write about (series on The Prisoner, back reviews of Battlestar Galactica). I’ve had varying success but it’s easier to track progress because each of those goals can be easily measured.

    A little harder are nebulous goals like “happiness” :)

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  5. By Bj posted on December 1, 2007 at 11:41 pm
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    Thank you. I’m going to show this to my college writers who are all studying to be artists at an arts related college; beautiful writers who do not know the word “deadline”. bj

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  6. Tradução: A outra metade de “Artistas publicam” at Mergulhando no CaosDecember 2, 2008 at 9:12 pm

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