Hitting a Deadline

I got the phoned request at 6 o’clock on the evening in question, just as I was halfway through chopping an onion.

‘Our speaker’s cancelled, could you fill in?’DSCF4762

I hesitated. ‘When?’

‘The meeting starts at seven-thirty, but you don’t need to turn up until eight.’

‘You mean tonight?’

She did. ‘If you can just fill in forty minutes,’ she said. ‘Then stay for refreshments afterwards, tea and cakes, and mingle.’  It sounded so simple put like that.  Well, I thought, at least I can postpone cooking until tomorrow.

I pulled out all my old course-files, wondering what might appeal to a gathering of women expecting to hear a talk about cooking-on-a-budget.  Nothing, I quickly realised, to do with cooking: nothing too specific, and nothing too technical.  It’s lucky, really that like a lot of other writers, I’m a ‘deadline-hitter’.

Natural inspiration is one thing: that generates its own momentum.  But not all of my writing is spontaneous.  Set me a task with space to think, and all too often I dither, wallowing around in my ideas.  Tell me I have a limited amount of time to complete something and suddenly I’m in gear.

It’s taken me a long time to develop strategies for dealing with this, and they’re not perfect, but I’m going to share one that I find effective.  Hopefully, you might then pass on one or some of yours in return.

I list my deadlines in my diary.  And yes, the plural’s for real, I usually like to have three or four deadlines on-the-go at any one time, just to confuse matters.  But, and here’s the sneaky bit, I write them in as at least four days earlier than their actual cut-off.  I know, it sounds ridiculous to suggest I might fall for that, but somehow, I do. (I also keep the clock in my car, and the one in the bathroom five minutes fast, and that works too.)

We might assume I’m incredibly gullible, but I’m going to offer an explanation in my defence, because the trick depends on the, ‘at least’, part of the sentence.  The four days are never a constant.  I have, in the past, dropped them right down to two days, as well as upping them to seven. This means that unless I double-check with the original task I’m obliged to stick to the imposed deadline, and on that, I am surprisingly disciplined.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, my talk went down as well as their homemade cream cakes and sandwiches, which were very tasty, thank you.

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