Many years ago, I had the honor of eating lunch with a big, fancy, important editor I’d been working with for a few years. I asked him to critique my work and, to make a long story short, he emphasized my strengths: good copy, delivered on time.
“That’s it?” I answered. “Good copy on time?”
He said, “You’d be surprised.”
So, ever since, I’ve worked hard to deliver good copy on time. Every time. That means not missing deadlines. In the nearly thirty years since that lunch with a big, fancy, important editor, I’ve never missed a deadline. I’ve renegotiated a few, but I’ve missed zero.
How have I done that? I’m glad you asked. Because otherwise, I’d have a much shorter blog post. (You’re kicking yourself for asking, aren’t you?) Here are a few of the things I do to make sure deadlines are my friends:
I’m a careful planner. I keep a detailed calendar and to-do list (a bullet journal, if you must know). I put every deadline (speaking, writing, rewriting, editing, etc.) into my calendar.
Make incremental deadlines
I don’t stop with writing a deadline in my calendar; I then break it into incremental deadlines for myself. So, for example, if I have a 60,000-word first draft to produce in six months, I break it into monthly deadlines (10,000 words each month) and weekly benchmarks (gotta produce at least 2,500 words every week), etc. For every project on my to-do list. Lather, rinse, repeat.
As I wrote in a recent blog post on the working writer’s lifestyle, I work as far ahead as possible. (For example, I’m writing this post almost two months before it’s due.) I take great pleasure in “beating” my own deadlines whenever possible—and so much better if it’s by a long shot. This relieves my stress and prevents last-minute panic. (I have enough panic in my life without the panic produced by procrastination.)
Lie to yourself
I also lie to myself. Say I’ve signed a contract for something that’s due on April 1. I intentionally try to forget that date and schedule the deadline in my calendar for, say, March 1. My memory is poor enough to often replace the “official” deadline with the new, sooner deadline I create, which increases the odds—and the ease—of meeting the original deadline. In addition, my memory is poor enough to often replace the “official” deadline with the new, sooner deadline I create, which increases the odds—and the ease—of meeting the original deadline.
It’s not rocket science, I know. But these simple measures have saved my bacon more times than I can say.