Session Seven: Time Management, segment two, what if you have a deadline?
That's a good question because most time management books and tapes deal with us as if our lives are nice little parades of events and obligations, and all we have to do is organize them. Most don't understand that writers don’t just have events and obligations; we are usually dual career people, with spouses, kids and a house. And just when we think we have everything under control. Boom. Along comes a deadline.
If an editor has asked to see a full manuscript, you don't have a year's worth of doctor's appointments to pen scenes. And you most certainly can't wait for your mood to turn sour to kill all the people who need to die for your mystery! Even an hour of Walker, Texas Ranger time every night won't be enough time to get done what you need to get done!
So what do you do?
If you're one of those people who have a deadline, have an editor/agent waiting for a manuscript, or have an upcoming conference at which you want to pitch a completed manuscript, then you are going to have to go into your schedule and do some disrupting.
Yikes! This is exactly what I told you not to do in the last lesson! I know. I didn't precisely lie. What I gave you last lesson was the best case scenario. Today, we talk about the worst case scenario! (I’m giving you both because your life isn't hectic all the time, but neither is it peaceful and orderly all the time. You need to be able to recognize both scenarios and adapt accordingly.)
Okay. Worst case scenario. . .
When people come to me with the dilemma of a deadline they despair of making, just as when people come to me trying to figure out how to squeeze some writing into their day, I first I ask them to figure out if they are a morning or night person.
Why? For the same reason this works in your regular schedule. Morning people can set their alarms for an hour or two earlier and get lots of work done that way. Night people can sneak into their offices when everybody else is in bed and get their work done that way. That's a quick, easy solution to a potentially big problem. And, again, it's relatively painless to your family. Because, let's face it, they are the ones who will start complaining big time if they feel you are shortchanging them! So your best solutions are always the ones that tiptoe around their time and needs.
But scheduling extra morning or night writing has another benefit. You use your chemical makeup and your optimal writing time, so that you aren't fighting yourself. You are working with yourself. And that's when you really get the most work done!
You probably already know whether you're a morning or night person, and also know that it's better to work in the part of your day in which you achieve maximum efficiency, but if you don't, it's time to figure it out. When you have a deadline, a true deadline that you cannot miss, you don't have time to figure it out. You also can't waste time piddling around trying to work when your biorhythms aren't cooperating.
So figure out when you get your best work done, and then make arrangements to use that time. When you have a really tight deadline, no matter what it takes, put yourself into a position where you are at your desk, writing, during your peek efficiency time.
And, btw, for those of you who have day jobs that occur during your peek efficiency time. . . I took two weeks vacation once to write the first draft of a book with a god-awful deadline. I was upset - kinda mad actually - to have to use my vacation time for work. But that book resulted in my first multiple-book contract and that contract resulted in me being able to quit my day job.
Sometimes you have to go to extreme measures.
In fact, I look at it like going on a diet. (Yes, people, after three weeks of harassing myself, I finally started a diet! Woo-Hoo!) Anyway, I look at getting a big project done on a deadline the same way I look at going on a diet. I decide that my schedule, my life, my everything will be dedicated to moving this one mountain for however long it takes, knowing that it won't take forever, and the more dedicated I am, the more quickly I will get done.
Why? Because that kind of focus works. Putting yourself in the frame of mind that this isn't forever, but it is necessary will be like accomplishing number seven in the seven steps to goal setting. . . Resolving never to quit. It mentally prepares you to tackle any obstacle that comes along.
For instance . . .
If my husband has a day off when I'm on deadline, I don't play hooky. I explain that this is a temporary situation. I need a month to finish a book. And when I am done, I will take several days off with him.
That doesn't just remind me of my goal of hitting my deadline, it reminds him, too, to take my writing seriously. It also gives both of us something to look forward to. I've even told him to spend the four weeks I'm working to figure out something we can do together when I am done. (Usually, it ends up being a golf outing somewhere. . . but the planning keeps him busy and happy and occupied so I can work!)
You can use a similar system with your kids. Particularly if they are older. I used to make a game out of my deadlines. It was a three-step system that went something like:
Step One: Mom has to get a book done so everybody gets a chore (one of my chores, like doing dishes, or gathering the day's laundry and taking it to the laundry room. I did that as a way to make them feel a part of the situation and do something of which they can be proud, giving them ownership of the situation, too.)
Step Two: Everybody is told that it's their job to let Mom alone.
Then . . .
Step three: When the deadline is met, we will all . . . Go out for ice cream, or go to Hershey Park, or go bowling. . .Something.
Step one and two serve the purpose of making your kids feel a part of things, even as those steps teach them responsibility. Step three teaches them that rewards come from obeying rules and working.
In addition to figuring out your biological clock and enlisting the help of your husband and kids, there are all kinds of other great things you can do to get a big project done as quickly as possible.
1) Divide a big project into little projects. In the same way that this helps when you don't have a deadline it's a godsend for deadline work. Again, this is a way to make use of all that down time in your week that you can’t avoid, because you can take your little projects to the doctor's office, your son's little league game and/or ballet lessons and work on them there. But more than making use of downtime, completing little projects gives you a sense of accomplishment that will propel you onto the next project. Little projects also mark progress.
But, most important of all, little projects stave off procrastination. As I said before, most of us procrastinate because of a sense of overwhelm. We see this mountain of work and wonder how we can ever get it done - especially when it comes with a tight deadline. So when you break that big project into little projects and break the little projects into steps, everything seems manageable again. And procrastination usually goes away!
As an aside here . . . the dividing big projects into small and creating steps . . . seems like more work than it is. And don’t make it more than it has to be. You can simply make a list of scenes you know MUST happen in your story. You can make a list of people you need to describe. You can make a list of places you need to describe. And takes those lists with you, so that you can write descriptions or scenes whenever you have an extra block of time.
2) Creatively procrastinate. What the heck is creative procrastination? That's putting off things that really don't need to be done. For instance, you cannot avoid feeding your children. (There are laws.) However, there is no law that says your refrigerator must be scrubbed every week. There's no law that says every room in your house must be vacuumed daily. There's no law that says you must wash every dish as it becomes dirty. There's no law that says you must make your bed.
I know, I know! It doesn't take that long to make a bed . . . But, if you've got a good thought, or an amazing idea for how to start your next chapter and you pause to make your bed, you could lose it. That's how a lot of us get into trouble!
So, you need to creatively procrastinate. When I'm working on deadline I don't clean my refrigerator, vacuum or dust daily. I vacuum and dust once a week and clean the refrigerator at the end of the project.
Which brings takes us back to one of our original points. . . There is an end to the project. And in the same way that making a deal with your husband or your kids can get them to help (or get them to leave you alone so you can work) sometimes the best way to find the time you need is to make a deal with yourself that you will do certain things when the project is done. Then, knowing they'll be waiting for you when you're done, you have to let them go to the universe. If you have trouble with that, just ask yourself, which is more important? Dusting off the windowsill that no one will see, or getting your book in on time?
3) Curb your social life. Turn off the phone (or let the answering machine pick up). Forget email exists. And, again, remember that you can get back to everybody when you are done. Most times I let people know in advance when I'll be disappearing, but even then I get phone calls and emails I don’t have time for. The truth is, if someone calls "Just to chat" after I’ve told them I'm off limits, I usually realize they simply forgot that I'm busy. I gently remind them that I'm on deadline and promise to get back to them when I'm done. You don't have to make a federal case out of interruptions, but you have to know when to sidestep them or ignore them!
4) Take yourself seriously. Really, that's the only way you will get anything done. If you don't put enough of a priority on your project you will wheedle your way out, or your friends and family will talk you away. Don't let that happen. Take yourself and your work seriously and editors and agents will too. In fact, I've discovered that's a very interesting trait of editors and agents. They can spot a slacker from a mile away. Or maybe slacker is a bad choice of words. Maybe we should say hobbyist. No editor or agent wants to invest a bundle of time in someone only to have that person consistently and continually miss deadlines. Not because they are impatient, but because they have their own schedule to manage. It's just much easier to work with people who hit the marks!
Assignment? I want you to think creatively about creative procrastination. Make a list of all the things you could put off or completely ignore the next time you have a tight deadline. I also want you to think about your telephone, your email, and your regular social routine and decide which systems you could implement to preserve your privacy and which social "things" you could drop altogether to assure you have both the time and the peace and quiet to get done what you need to get done.
Then, when you get a tight deadline, when an editor calls for your complete manuscript, you won't have to think it through. You will already have a plan in place!
So figure it out right now. What could go if you had a major deadline? Make your plan now. Be ready for the day when you "get the call."