How to Meet Deadlines

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:

Plan ahead

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.  

Work ahead

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.   

13 Responses to How to Meet Deadlines

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 21, 2021 at 4:56 am #

    My name’s Procrastination,
    please say it with a smile,
    for you’re my destination,
    and I will stay awhile
    to ease your daily burden,
    relieve your pressure-sorrow,
    for I am quite certain
    it can wait until tomorrow.
    You’re a master, after all,
    so quick at what you do!
    So I know you will not fall
    and with ease get through
    to meet each single deadline,
    minute to spare, but still on time!

  2. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. October 21, 2021 at 5:10 am #

    Bob, I understand from my military students that, if you show up on time, you’re late. I also keep a month-at-a-glance calendar (old-fashioned….I confess) and a daily memo pad of things to do. Of the 14 years I was in college (dual undergrad degrees, MBAm and Ph.D.) I only missed one deadline by one day……Type A+++ personality, for certain, but also respectful of deadlines. Thanks for a great blog posting.

  3. Bill Bethel October 21, 2021 at 5:57 am #

    Fifteen minutes early has been a goal of mine,
    so if I am a little late I’m always there on time.

  4. Nora October 21, 2021 at 6:23 am #

    I saw that…

    I know it’s important for me to make deadlines. I finally made one for myself. Right now it seems so far away though.

    Wonderful reminder article.


  5. Jay Payleitner October 21, 2021 at 7:49 am #

    Hey Bob:

    Especially when I’m juggling several deadlines at once, I literally have a yellow sticky note with key due dates posted on my printer which sits just to the right of my monitor.

    Always, always assume that there will be emergencies with other clients and publishers the week before a manuscript is due. So give yourself some cushion.

    Finally, you cannot contact your editor and ask for an extension the day before it’s due. But, if you ask two weeks earlier, they’ll say “No problem. Thanks for letting us know.” That gives them time to adjust their workload.

  6. SarahHamaker October 21, 2021 at 7:53 am #

    For those who have a hard time with mini-deadlines before the final due date, here’s a tip to help: Start with the end date and work backwards. Your final copy is due to the editor on X date. What has to happen immediately before that deadline? Before that? Before that?

    Also build margin into your schedule. I tend to frontload my week with the most important things on Mondays and Tuesdays and very little on Fridays to allow me both breathing room and a day where I can catch up if I need to.

  7. Loretta Eidson October 21, 2021 at 8:56 am #

    Great food for thought. I never want to miss a deadline.

  8. Tama Fortner October 21, 2021 at 9:16 am #

    Great advice. Personally, I lie to myself all the time about deadlines. And most of the time, myself believes me. 🙂

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 21, 2021 at 1:26 pm #

      Tama, this is for you. And me.

      There’s a high surrounding wall
      over which I cannot see
      and it is my own downfall
      for myself believes in me.
      I can’t fathom that I’d fail
      in my quest for what is right,
      but evidence doth tell the tale,
      and I haven’t got it, quite,
      the knack for being dead on time
      if not a little early,
      and though ‘late’ is not a crime,
      I hope that at the Pearly
      Gates when Saint Pete doth my name seek,
      it’s not ‘No go, you are late a week!’.

  9. Janell Wood October 21, 2021 at 9:28 am #

    Good advice, per usual, Bob.

  10. Kristen Joy Wilks October 21, 2021 at 3:31 pm #

    Ha ha! I love your final point of deceiving yourself! This does remind me of a beloved family member who is often late. So everyone started telling this person a different time to arrive than everyone else. Sadly, the family member caught on and then would presume that others had given an incorrect time, even if they had not. It was a mess, ha!

  11. Roberta Sarver October 21, 2021 at 4:01 pm #

    Bob, your advice is always so practical. Thank you! Due to newspaper column writing, I had to learn to learn the limbo with deadlines early in my writing career. I’m glad I started with journalism–though I got the highest grades on college term papers with the ones I sweated out the night before they were due. Since I’m not 21 anymore, I don’t enjoy the adrenaline swoosh and drop.

  12. Desiree Webber October 22, 2021 at 11:01 am #

    Excellent advice. Thank you.

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