Here’s a true story: I used to turn in many of my assignments the night before they were due. That worked, sort of, until the day I woke up with a nasty cold that wouldn’t quit. Although I managed to complete my assignments on time during my illness, I also realized I would have loved to have a few days of breathing room so I could take care of my health. I learned a hard lesson from that experience: While life can and does happen, thus disrupting my work, I can —and should! — do a few things first to avoid working right up to the deadline*.
By creating a buffer between my internal deadline, which is the day I would like to complete a project, and the expected deadline, I now have a few days to deal with anything that comes my way while maintaining a professional and reliable relationship with clients. Putting a buffer in place has also been lucrative, as I have found that handing in assignments earlier than expected has sometimes resulted in additional assignments (and thus more money) from clients. It’s also a relatively easy way to bolster my reputation with a client. Here’s how I changed my approach to my work.
- I identified my bad habits: There were times when I underestimated the complexity of an assignment, thus putting it off to work on “later.” Then “later” would arrive, and I would spend more time than I expected on the assignment or project. That wasn’t the greatest idea, and it was a bad habit I knew I had to break.
- I buckled down on my existing projects: After I realized that I was procrastinating too much on my existing assignments, I knew I had to take some sort of action. This is what I did: I took a look at what was due on my end for the upcoming week. Then, I buckled down and worked on my assignments, with the goal to complete everything at least two days in advance. It was difficult to do, but I did it because I realized that I couldn’t get ahead on future assignments if I barely kept up with what was due that week. If it’s possible, decrease the distractions in your workplace, work a bit later than you normally do, and get to work.
- I remembered how awesome it felt to turn in assignments earlier than expected: I can’t begin to describe how calm I felt when I realizes on Wednesday that I was finished with the week’s assignments. I felt in control of my workload, and even had some time to look for more freelance assignments. That good mood also propelled me to start writing the next week’s assignments almost one week early. I have kept that momentum going, because knowing I’m early with work feels so good.
- I started earlier on new projects: There’s an old saying “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” and it’s true. Old me would look at a deadline for an assignment due in weeks, if not a month or more down the road, and think “I have time!” I’d fool myself into thinking that the assignment could wait, when it really couldn’t. Today, I at least dip my toes in a new assignment right away so I can get a realistic idea of how much time it will take me. I also use the time to ask my client any questions or concerns I may have, and to brainstorm an outline for the assignment. By starting work on a project earlier than I used to, I can complete the project earlier than expected. It’s such a simple concept, but it’s one that has helped me so many times.
- I created a realistic schedule: When I got ahead with my work, I knew it was time to think of a way to maintain internal deadlines. I also knew I couldn’t always turn in an assignment weeks or even days in advance, but I could at least try. With that in mind, I made notations of how long it would typically take me to complete projects for some of my clients so I could better plan my work week. By planning to complete a project at an earlier-than-expected date, I could work backwards and know plan my schedule even better.
With a little work upfront and by identifying what I was doing wrong, I made my approach to my work a manageable and lucrative endeavor. What are your tips for meeting deadlines?
*There are writers who thrive on meeting deadlines with just minutes to spare. That’s great. That’s not my cup of tea!