“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”– Napoleon Hill
Cinderella’s fairy godmother was very clear about Cinderella’s deadline: the magic would end when the clock struck midnight. After that time, all of Cinderella’s finery would be gone. Her carriage – her ride home – would revert to a simple pumpkin, and her dress would transform back into the dirty, sooty rags she completed her step-family’s chores in. The spell would be broken at midnight and not a moment later, which gave Cinderella a very definitive timeframe to party.
Whether you’re writing for yourself or a paying client, you need to respect deadlines. If you agree to finish your writing project by Friday, then as soon as that clock strikes midnight, your deadline has passed. You’ve broken the trust.
When I joined my university’s student-run newspaper, I realized every week that people constantly missed their deadlines. All articles were supposed to be submitted by 5 p.m. so they could be edited and sent to the printer by 8 p.m. And yet, every week, I was up until 3 or 4 a.m. either editing or writing the articles that didn’t meet the deadline. It didn’t matter how many reminder emails I sent, or how seriously we talked about deadlines at the weekly staff meetings. The truth was, we needed the content to fill the space in our weekly 24 page paper, and it was my job to make sure the content was up to par.
If you’re a writer and someone is relying on you, you need to keep your deadlines! Here are five tips on how you can manage your writing time better and make your deadlines:
1. Set a realistic timeline.
Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. If you have a big project and a long timeframe, break up the pieces into smaller goals with periodic due dates. Write down this information on the medium you’ll use to write (laptop, notebook, work computer, etc.) AND give yourself reminders in places you’ll actually see them (phone notifications, sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, or a daily planner). Cinderella totally lost track of time until she heard the clock striking midnight. Be smarter than Cinderella.
2. Schedule time to work.
Think about the whole undertaking: how long will it take you to research? To write? To edit? To submit? Cinderella didn’t need to plan for the time to get home, apparently, but she knew she had from the first gong of midnight until the last chime to GTFO. Try to plan your time better than Cinderella.
3. When you work, make sure you’re actually working!
Us writers tend to do everything but actually write. What works for me is setting a timer. When that timer is going, my butt is in the chair. My laptop is charged. I have coffee, a snack, and water within reach. My phone is silent. My office door is closed. Everything can wait until the timer ends. I know my system won’t work for everyone, but it’s an example of how to find what works for you. Adjust as needed. Cinderella was awesome at staying focused on her goal of having fun before midnight. Be awesome like Cinderella.
4. Keep yourself accountable.
Enlist help to keep you accountable. Tell your mom, your partner, your friend, or your coworker that you are working on a deadline. (As an added bonus, this will also remind them not to bother you when your deadline is close.) Cinderella had the threat of being exposed at midnight, so the clock kept her accountable. You don’t need to have stakes as high as Cinderella, but some peer pressure might be in order.
5. Finish your work, on time, and pat yourself on the back.
Cinderella got to live happily ever after with her prince, and you get to enjoy the satisfaction of delivering your promised work on time. Cinderella would be proud.