I am somewhat rigid about keeping to deadlines.
Actually, no. That’s not true. I keep to-do lists really well. Deadlines? A little more iffy.
Case in point: I recently missed a deadline for a story draft, not super urgent but something that I could have worked a little harder for. No panic. A few days later, fell behind on my to-do list. Immediate exhaustion and despair.
I feel like I should be more concerned about having missed a deadline, but also, I’m glad I’m not because I’m neurotic enough about to-do list to make up for it. It’s one of those things that is a combo strength/weakness. On one hand, I’m not stressed about this. On the other hand, I kind of needed to have that draft done.
However, being aware of such, I do have a few methods to help me keep my deadlines when it matters.
- What deadlines are important, and what can I do to make meeting those deadlines easier?
- Priorities! The deadline I missed was flexible and it was enough I had the draft mostly finished. Some deadlines are not so kind. Recognizing which ones are important is the thing. So what things about my current schedule do I need to change to ensure that I can meet deadlines promptly?
- If stuff comes up, how can I ensure that the important deadlines are met?
- Because stuff always happens. I hate rejiggering my to-do lists unless I absolutely have to, so having an action plan and items in mind that I can cut or avoid helps me avoid stress when I end up with all-day emergency babysitting or if I get the flu and lose a week of productivity.
- What stuff will make me feel better to complete, even if it’s not especially important?
- I don’t know what other people have to do, but this goes back to me loving lists. Basically, if I get behind on those lists too much, it makes it almost impossible for me to accomplish things because I fixate on those items and don’t get anything done. So now I know that there are some things that I just have to do, because it keeps my brain from getting sidetracked in a bad way.
- What makes something done?
- Break down deadlines into…a list! (Yes, I love lists. This has been established.) All the better if that list fits into one of my existing lists or can functionally replace things that I already do. (Like how I have seven items on my list for “writing.” Sometimes these items are for specific tasks related to upcoming deadlines. Sometimes I can choose what it’s going to mean on a particular day.) It’s not just some random and often far-off date to completion, it’s a series of tasks, and I can track my progress and tell if I need to be moving faster and doing more to make it to the finish line in time.
- How flexible is the finished product?
- Basically, within an important deadline, which tasks need prioritizing? If I run out of time, are there elements of a project that I can let slide? Like editing. Eventually, I’ll get to all the points. But sometimes it’s important to say “done” and shove a book back out to people who can look at it and tell me if maybe I fixed those smaller issues along the way or made those points moot. That kind of thing.
At the end of the day, my strategy for dealing with deadlines is to turn it into something that I do a lot better with. I’m sure others have strategies that work for them as well. I’d love to hear about them! See if I can’t improve my own methodology.