9 Things I’ve Learned About Working to a Deadline

1.          Never make the deadline the deadline

If your project is due in five weeks, move your deadline up a week and give yourself only four weeks to complete the work. Too many things can go wrong (aside from your own procrastination) to interfere with getting the job done on time—computer problems, catching the flu, a major sports playoff that you just have to watch. With a week to spare you have time to do a great job on revisions and be sure that you hand in your best work. Also, handing work in ahead of time can give you a reputation for being well-organized and a good person to trust with a project.

2.         Set daily or weekly goals

Divide the large total of words into manageable chunks and the entire project just looks a whole lot more attainable. I like to give myself weekly, word-count goals and log my achievements on my calendar. If I exceed my goals, I definitely take a congratulatory trip to Starbucks, but I don’t use my success as an excuse to slack off on the next week’s quota—besides a café mocha is at stake!

3.         Organize your research notes

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write, surrounded by piles of paper or a list of saved articles from the Internet, and feeling overwhelmed before you even begin. If you’ve got notes or articles printed from the Internet, staple the pages together and write in bright-coloured ink on the top page what the focus of the article is, or attach a sticky note. Highlight the quotes or information that you want when you read through the article for the first time, then you only have to read the article once. Put a sticky note on the highlighted pages with part of it sticking out like a bookmark. Put a short note on that part so you can see at a glance the material you need.

4.         Organize your “favourites” file

When you save web pages from the Internet, always put them in a special file just for this project. I usually change the name of the article I’m saving and give it a title that tells me right away why I saved it, for example: “Background on xxx” or “quote from Y about xxx.”

5.         Make sure to allow time for research

Even if you’re writing a children’s story, there’s bound to be some piece of information that needs looking up, i.e. When do kittens open their eyes? How tall is the average seven-year-old? And sometimes questions crop up as you write, or interesting tangents present themselves that need exploration to add to your project.

 6.         Forgive yourself

If you don’t make quota, don’t get frantic. Take a good look at your upcoming week and find the extra couple of hours you need to do the work. Then give yourself credit for being tough enough to get the job done.

7.         Reward yourself

Celebrate exceeding your goal. (Meeting it was your job, remember?) A small incentive can go a long way to keep the words adding up.

 8.         Find an encouraging writing partner

There’s nothing like knowing that someone is going to be regularly asking you, “How’s the project going?” to keep you working. I calculate my progress in percentages so that I know that the project is 60% completed or, better yet, that there’s only 40% left to do. Everyone likes a pat on the back for a job well done. I have a writing group that I meet with once a month and I look forward to reporting my progress on my work. That monthly meeting is a great incentive. I’m surrounded by talented professionals who inspire me to work professionally, too.

 9.         Turn off the e-mail

You’re a writer and your job is to write. People can wait to hear from you for a few hours and, yes, even days. Saying ‘no’ to the distractions honours both you and the work you are doing. For a few hours a day, writing is the most important job you have.

10 thoughts on “9 Things I’ve Learned About Working to a Deadline

    • No problem, Paige, and please give me a retweet if you found me through Twitter. Good luck with your writing projects! You can tell I haven’t switched off my email this morning. : )

      • Sounds like a deal! 😉 And I never turn off my email, lol. I’m terrible. My excuse is that I’m at work at the moment and so I need it.

        As a blackberry user, sometimes, I really, really, really need to remind myself of that last one!

  1. Really enjoyed this! As a former journalist, I loathe deadlines but I also respect them–which is what I keep trying to pass along to my students, with mixed results. This is a good list, though, worth printing out and tacking next to the writing desk. #3 actually gives me an idea for a follow-up entry on my one blog series about research (it’s over here, if you’re curious–http://snoekbrown.wordpress.com), and #9 is probably my worst offense, so I was glad to see it last, as the final word on meeting deadlines. Thanks for posting, and I look forward to more entries like this one!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Samuel. I dropped by your blog and checked out a couple of your research blogs. It’s easy to let research get in the way of the writing isn’t it? Hope you were a NaNo winner and that you’re enjoying revisions now to your historical novel. Good luck with all your writing.

      • I was indeed a NaNo winner, though that novel is still far from finished. And thanks for popping over to my blog–it is easy to let the research get in the way, which is why a disciplined approach is always best. Took me years and years to finally concede that, but there it is. 🙂

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