Laughing at deadlines

A kindly old editor once explained to me the facts of life in journalism: “Deadlines are simple. Cross the line, and you’re dead.”

Probably not an original thought, and he had a gleam in his eye when he said it, but I took it to heart. Through two decades in the news business, I rarely missed a deadline. In fact, I usually got my stories turned in early. It left more time to argue with the editors.

Deadlines are more extreme in the newspaper business, as the old editor’s advice shows, but every industry has them. That's why you see people using laptop computers at the beach. It's why the businessman with the car phone to his ear nearly mowed you down in traffic this morning. And it's one reason ulcer medications sell so well (parenting being the other reason).

When you work at home, with no boss looming over your desk, deadlines are largely self-imposed. Granted, clients make demands and there are only so many hours in each day. But when you work at home, your schedule is your own. If you need to work all night to meet a deadline, then you do it. You can catch up on your sleep when you’re done. The trick is to pace yourself, so you don’t end up pulling too many all-nighters. Keep busy every day, plan ahead, make a schedule. Stay on top of the work before it gets on top of you.

OK, you can stop laughing now. No really. Stop it.

It truly is possible to keep a normal schedule when you work at home. Divide up the amount of work you have to do in a given week by the number of days you can actually work on it. Then set daily goals. Meet each goal, and -- voila! -- you’ve met the deadline.

Stop that chortling. You think I can’t hear that? Enough already.

So the secret is all in the planning. Set aside time for e-mail and paperwork and phone calls that’ll interrupt your progress. Remember that Monday is grocery day and Wednesday is laundry and Friday is the dental appointment. Write it all down so you don’t forget. Then chart the available hours that remain.

Cut it out now. I mean it. I’m trying to give you good advice here and you’re still snickering.

OK, so you’ve figured out how many hours you have left. Did you leave room for all this weekly planning? Getting organized takes time. And you’ll need more time later in the week to re-evaluate your plan and make sure it’s working. Interruptions happen. You can’t anticipate that quick trip to the emergency room or that computer meltdown. So if things go wrong, you’ll need time to reconfigure your plans. If it means doubling up your work hours for a day or two to still hit that deadline, it’ll be worth it, won’t it? A happy client is a client for keeps. And an unhappy client won’t care that you were called away from your work by an equally unhappy schoolteacher who wants to discuss little Johnny’s spitball habit.

See? There you go again. Are you serious about making your deadlines or not? All right then, stop snorting and listen.

We’re talking about discipline here. If you’re going to be a success working at home, it takes discipline and dedication and determination and several other traits that start with the letter "D." Just like Deadline. And only you can do it. No one’s going to monitor your progress or suggest a shortcut or recommend that a briefer lunch hour would mean more efficiency. It’s up to you.

A pep talk does you no good, huh? Just more hilarity at the notion of keeping on top of everything and never having to burn that midnight oil. All right, fine. Forget the whole thing.
Find your own method for meeting your deadlines.

I don’t have time for any more of this anyway. I’ve got a project to complete. And if it’s not finished on time, I’m dead.

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