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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?  


  1. TK is one of the *best* writing time savers I ever learned from you. When I was freelancing for magazines, I used it in article drafts.

    Even though now I'm writing novels I still use TK if I don't have a name for a character or place. My flow isn't interrupted, which saves time and sanity.

    All fantastic advice! :D

  2. Thanks, Megg! I use TK when I'm writing fiction, too. I can always go back and fill in the missing info during the second draft. Thanks for your comment. :)

  3. Thank you so much for the TK tip. I often get bogged down - or stop altogether - when I don't know a piece of information. TK will be a much more effective way to work.

    Your post is timely and useful for me. As the mom of a preschooler and a toddler, one of my biggest and most frequent frustrations is that my plans often get waylaid by sick kids, or a kid that chooses not to take a nap, or any of the other 1,000 things that comes up during the day. I'm learning to take advantage of every available moment and jealously guard the time that I have set aside for writing. If I don't, I'm apt to fritter away a good chunk of 15 or 30 minutes that I could use to make even a little bit of forward progress.

    Often, I need to step back and look at the bigger, long-term picture instead of letting the daily grind and stress of a deadline wear me down. Thanks for the tip of planning the month out to get a good idea of what's coming down the pike.

  4. Great tips, Kelly. Love the TK idea. Will start using that immediately.

  5. Amy, thanks for your comment. I'm definitely in the same boat! Now I have a 6-year-old who wants to play Pokemon with me every waking minute (when we're not playing basketball) and a 2-year-old who climbs into my lap and starts jamming on my Mac keys if I even try to check my email. So it's...challenging sometimes, let's say. :)

    And Carol, you're welcome. TK has made me a much more productive writer, whether I'm working on a project for a client, something for myself, fiction, a blog post, you name it. I just TK and keep going!

    Happy Monday to all of my readers! :)

  6. "Toughest task of the day" = My whole book.

    Thanks for being awesome and making a personal trainer sound like a writer

  7. Ha ha! You make me laugh, Jon. It's not that bad, really. :) Thanks and happy holidays! :)