How to Beat/Meet Deadlines
There is a reason you have deadlines. If there wasn't one, you'd never be given a deadline or have to meet it. But that ain't how the world works. We'd be forever in pursuit. And that's okay, but for longer lifetime goals. Not for writing assignments. You and I would never make a penny.
I try at all times to beat deadlines. Especially for stories or projects assigned to me. How? By working on the story right away. Of course, if you work in a newsroom or are on staff at a larger agency that goes without saying but if you work, like me, on many one-off projects or stories that have a longer lead time, for features magazines or maybe websites, then don't make the mistake, and I am talking from experience here, of keeping best things for last, or dashing for the red ribbon in the last second, or whatever fancy term you want to give for being plain simple careless and lethargic with your work.
I mark my deadline at least 24 hours ahead on my calendar, and sometimes, depending on my experience working with a magazine or a certain 'type' of editor, I mark my deadline even a week in advance just to keep room for any last minute changes or edits or alterations, or, God forbid, additions, to my piece. When I am assigned work, I get on it right away. I also used to do the infamous fleeting glance at my mail and saying I was on it, then getting to 'it' days before deadline and finding out the attached files were wrong, or inaccessible, or not even attached. Guess how professional that makes me look. Yeah, pat on the back...NOT!
Never came across an editor that reprimanded me for sending in my work earlier so I can't be doing it wrong. In fact, sometimes that has actually resulted in not just repeat work from the same client, but also last-minute stories that paid more (since they are rush jobs now because some other member of the team decided to drop the ball on it) and even referrals. So now I am not just making money, but making more money - from the same client and another. Who can complain?
Try it the next time. Work backward from a deadline, give yourself the breathing space to beat it, allow for the time you need to turn around the piece, the time you will need for your research, speaking to sources, putting together your primary points, supporting facts, sourcing images, etc. and that will give you a clear idea of how far ahead you should begin. Which is now.
Soon as you are assigned a project or story, go ahead and add it to your running work list, which I hope you have one of, because otherwise, I am not sure how you keep track of your ongoing jobs. Make sure you are looking at this work list very day when you begin and every evening when you call quits so you are constantly aware of the deadline coming through. If you are halfway through your roadmap and have not heard from resources, don't have the required quotes or the images sourced, then escalate to your editor or superior, senior editor, whoever will help, because they will appreciate an earlier red flag than a later one. Of course, this is your last resort after all other efforts on your part have failed. Sure, you don't want to look incompetent by having to ask your editor to step in, but beyond a point, it isn't about you any more. There is an issue that has to go live and your story needs to be in it, and your bills paid, so do what you have to, in order to get that story together.
Try to set up consistent reminders and alerts on your calendar so you stay on track. You can also have your accountability partner, close friend or trusted professional acquaintance check in on you on set dates to ensure you are progressing as you should. If a change of scenario give you a sense of urgency then go ahead and work from a different location if that means your deadline will be met. If it turns out highly likely that you will not meet your deadline, the first inkling you have of it, give your editor a heads-up. They are nice people for the most part and want to help you if they can or must. They also have an issue to produce so seek help when you need it. Most are happy to know, some will offer an extension, some will offer assistance or advice or try connecting you to other sources but be fair to them and let them know well in advance.
Worst case scenario, submit your work on deadline day and make sure to clarify up front what time on deadline day your work should be in. Again, from experience, I know that while you are thinking noon your editor is expecting your piece in her mail when she has her morning coffee, when you are thinking end of day your editor is expecting submission at noon. If you don't receive an assignment letter spelling it out, then the onus is on you to clear out any gaps that could lead to misunderstandings later.
It is absolutely unprofessional and unacceptable to not meet a deadline, earlier or on time, and not communicate with your editor. It gives the rest of us a bad name so please, don't. Let them know when you will have your project done, and stick to that delayed deadline, even if you decide to gift it to yourself. If nothing else, you would have saved face, and maybe, the editor might try working with you again. Or you might just get paid, or not (uh-oh), and never work with them again, but recognize that this is your doing. So before that catastrophe hits you, go ahead and just submit on deadline and that way we will all be happy.
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