Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z -- Zero Hour -- Meeting Deadlines

One of the benefits of having worked in the field of print journalism was that I had to learn to meet hard deadlines. I also learned that sometimes those "hard" deadlines can be negotiated under certain circumstances.

Time management has been a big subject for many self-help gurus because it is something so many of us suck at. The biggest part of managing your time is knowing how to set priorities. There is one analogy for setting priorities that is one of the best and most of you have heard. It is the one about the mayonnaise jar and the rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you don't know it, or if you need a quick refresh on the story, click here.

Whatever is looming on your schedule with a hard deadline is one of the rocks and has to come first. It is "eyes on the prize"" time. Other things in your day must be relegated to the level of pebbles or even sand. This is much easier when you are on the job and everyone around you is also on deadline.

When you are freelancing and working from home you have to be strong and take yourself in hand. Turn off the phone and wait until you take a break to check messages. Return only those calls that are CRITICAL at that moment. If your kid is out there bleeding your priorities shift. If your kid is calling you to whine that the convenience store is out of blue raspberry Slurpees, it can wait.

Don't answer the door unless it is the police or other officials. This is no time for verbal jousting with a Jehovah's Witness.

Make sure that the kids and pets are employed elsewhere if need be. I know that I often get the most done in late morning when the cat usually naps. Earlier in the morning on nice days she will repeatedly come to the door and beg me to come outside with her. While this is REALLY cute, it can be a real time suck.

Stay nourished and well-hydrated. Set yourself up with food and drink in your workspace. I try to stick only with water since caffeine makes you pee and I don't want to spend writing time in the bathroom.

The one that I am worst at is staying away from television and Facebook or Twitter while writing. I almost always have the TV on and Facebook up. If I am totally engaged with what I am writing this doesn't pose a problem. When I am struggling and any diversion will do it is a bad idea. It I am really stuck a trip to the bathroom or a short nap is more effective at getting things moving again.

 Setting deadlines for yourself and meeting them is a great exercise for a writer.  Those writers that have challenged themselves by participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) put themselves in a position of needing to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. To do this one must write more than 1,600 words a day. While it is called "national" writers around the world, not everyone makes it through and finishes because it does require the discipline of meeting your own deadlines.

There are many ways that we all meet deadlines in our daily lives, from getting to work on time in the morning and making to doctor's appointments, to getting dinner on the table before the family starves to death. Meeting writing deadlines is much the same. We learn how long it takes to do things and budget out time accordingly (see Taking Time).

Of course there will be times when circumstances will arise that will keep you from meeting your deadline. Like the proverbial getting hit by a bus. My bus last year was my mother passing away and I had to take almost a total break from writing for a month while I dealt with one of the biggest crises of my life. The editors I was working with understood completely and gave me a pass -- for a time. This wasn't going to go on forever if I wanted to continue writing for them.

One of the important things about writing deadlines is that, if there is a good reason for missing a deadline, the deadline can sometimes be renegotiated. If your article isn't going to be ready by the 4 p.m. deadline you talk to your editor to see if it can be slipped into the paper just before it gets put to bed (sent to the printer). Perhaps another day would work. There is always the possibility that they are holding the press time until another article or some bit of advertising is ready. It never hurts to ask. It does hurt to make a habit of it.

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