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Sunday, December 4, 2011

7 Ways to Survive a Deadline Crunch

I've posted before about time-saving strategies, and I'm using pretty much all of them right now. My sitter had to cut her hours, which means I've lost the majority of my dedicated work time. I have a big deadline before Christmas, and let's just say I'm a bit stressed. I'm relying on several strategies to be as productive as possible when I do have a sitter, or have a couple of hours at the Y to work:

  • I always tackle the "ugliest" task of the day first. Usually that's drafting a chapter or a section of the book I'm ghostwriting. That takes the most mental energy and focus, and I find that both fade as the day goes on. 
  • I TK everything I can. If I need a piece of information from my client, I'll send a quick email asking for it. If it's something more complicated that I need to research, I'll TK it and do the digging later. I don't want to burn my serious work time doing research I could do while watching TV in the evening. 
  • I do lots of "prep work" (also known as WWYNRW) to take advantage of my work time. I'll print out a rough draft of a chapter I'm struggling with, read through it and make rough edits during Ryan's basketball practice--then the next morning, I can jump right in as soon as I open Word. 
  • I map out not just the week, but the month. A couple of weeks ago, I sketched out the coming weeks, and planned what chapters I would write when, working in several other projects as well. It's a hellish schedule, but at least I have a plan. That alone made me feel better.  
  • I keep a running list of everything on my plate (not just work-related), and I'm eliminating what I can. Our Christmas tree is up, but a holiday letter this year is looking less and less likely. I still have shopping to do, but my son will not be participating in the school science fair in January. I've been grabbing some dinners from Noodles & Co. and Panda Express instead of throwing something together at night. If I can cut it out of my schedule right now, it's getting cut.  
  • I dangle a giant carrot in front of my nose. Most years I take the week between Christmas and New Year's off; so does my husband. We spend the week sleeping in (if the kids allow), doing stuff as a family, and sometimes tackling various projects at home. Last year, I was writing a book and two book proposals during that time. My clients'  deadlines meant that worked every day except Christmas and it stunk. From December 24 until January 2, I will be on vacation, and I'm going to enjoy it. As I slog through the next few weeks, I remind myself of that fact, and will be able to savor that time even more. At least that's the plan.
  • I do take small chunks of time off. On Friday, I had my sitter stay an extra 90 minutes so I could get coffee and go to yoga. (Nothing like caffeinated yoga!) I can't even describe how much better--calmer, saner, less crazed--I felt afterwards. Tonight, I'll work for a while, and then knock off to watch a movie with my husband, who's in the midst of multiple deadlines himself. The small breaks I take translate into more productivity tomorrow.  
Of course, if you asked me how I feel about my current work situation, I would say, "it SUCKS!" And it does. But it's temporary, and survivable, and part of freelancing, alas. The feast-or-famine nature of the business, and how to address it, is a great topic for an upcoming post. Agree?