Columns by Eric J. Adams
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Battling the Deadline Blues
If you're like me, deadlines drive you crazy, but they also keep you driven. And chances are, you can't count the number of times you've woken up sweating a deadline -- even ones that are easy to meet. As for the impossible deadlines those are pretty sweaty affairs, too.
So how can you handle the pressure -- real and imagined -- of deadlines? And what do you say to a client if, heaven forbid, it looks like you're going to miss one? Here are a few tips on handling the dreaded D-word.
1. Negotiate Longer Lead Times. Deadlines are like money: once they're negotiated they are hard to renegotiate. Therefore, even if you think you can meet a proposed deadline with little problem, it's best to win yourself a little extra time during the initial negotiation. Ask for an extra day or week or month, whatever is appropriate to the work you do and the scope of the project. Think of the extra time as insurance should an emergency arise or if job becomes inexplicably complex.
2. Break Up Chores Into Manageable Pieces. When I started my first novel, I woke up every morning with a weight on my shoulders that pinned me flat to the floor. How could I possibly write a novel? A novel! The task was so daunting, so overwhelming, that it paralyzed me for days. A sympathetic author (one with six books under his belt and a healthy tan) gave me a suggestion. He said, "Set a goal of a certain number of words every day. Once you hit the goal, take the rest of the day off or do whatever needs to be done."
What a concept! By breaking down large tasks into manageable chunks (for me it was 1,000 words a day), I was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel instead of a long, dark tube of death. Sometimes I barely managed to hit 1,000 words, sometimes I surpassed it wildly, but I never felt the full weight of the book again.
Every big project, and even the small ones, can be similarly reduced to manageable elements. It takes discipline and you won't always hit the mark, but each day you'll feel like you've done a good day's work -- the right amount of work -- even when there's plenty left to be done.
3. Get Working. There's nothing quite like a little productivity to battle the deadline blues. At some point the work will have to be done. You've surely read enough elsewhere about procrastination. Suffice it to say you've got to stop daydreaming, quit surfing the Web, turn off the TV, and get cracking.
4. Reward Yourself. Naturally, you are fully motivated by the work you're doing. After all, you became an IP because you wanted to take pride in your labor, be your own boss, and fulfill all your other dreams of independence. But perhaps you also dig skydiving, relaxing in your hot tub, pouring yourself a glass of silky Merlot, or catching an afternoon matinee -- the just rewards of a good day's or week's work. When you feel yourself lagging, think about your post-project reward and how good it's going to feel.
5. Plan For The Long Haul. Insanity is not a business strategy. If you work like the devil, you can meet any deadline. But how about the next deadline and the one after that? Being an independent professional is a marathon, not a sprint. Set your deadlines and approach your work with the understanding that you have a life and you need to have the energy and motivation to continue working long after your latest project is done.
Whenever I start talking to a client about a deadline, I always visualize my kids, and I silently ask myself: is this deadline going to prevent me from spending time with them? If nothing more, this ploy gives me the incentive to ask for that extra week or two. And it works; my kids, like it or not, spend plenty of extra time with dad.
Independence Means Having to Say You're Sorry (Sometimes)
Now comes the hard part. Invariably, there will be a time when, despite all your best efforts, you're going to miss a deadline. Hopefully it won't be the first time you've worked with a client, because a missed deadline is no way to start a relationship.
Either way, don't take it lightly. You made a promise and now you're about to break it. That's bad business. Do everything you can to prevent this tragedy from happening. If that means working nights and weekends for a little while, so be it.
As soon as you realize that you'll be missing a deadline, call your client and let them know. Apologize, but don't make excuses, then immediately enlist your client's help in finding solutions. Ask: What work should be completed first? How can I help mitigate the fallout of the missed deadline? Can we bring in additional resources to accelerate the work? What can we do to ensure this doesn't happen again? How can I make it up to you?
Your client may not like the situation, but they will very much appreciate your taking it darn seriously. In fact, you can turn this misfortune into a client-relations victory. Here's your chance to demonstrate your worth by showing your client that you value their time. After all, time is money. And ultimately it's your money, unless you blow deadlines again and again. Then it's someone else's.
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