Monday, February 4, 2013

Deadlines and Runaway Tasks

Last Friday, my copy of the signed contract for my book arrived in the mail. What was surreal is quickly becoming real, and although the editor, an author himself, has kindly told me not to stress over getting the revisions back to him, my self-imposed deadline clock is ticking. Quite loudly. 

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since I've found one reason/excuse after another to delay the revisions to this point. You see, I'd much rather create than revise. But now, knowing there is someone waiting for these pages, I need to kick things into high gear.

I've never thought of myself as someone who needed a deadline to get something accomplished, but I'm guessing those around me might disagree. And, as I look around my house at projects I've nearly completed (and there are more than I care to enumerate), perhaps I need to reconsider my assessment. 

Still, I assert that it isn't that I need a deadline; it's that the presence of one hastens my completion of a task. A deadline moves the project in question to a higher position on my to-do list. It automatically leaps over anything that doesn't have a due date.

If it sounds as though I'm splitting hairs, let me offer some evidence in my favor. In the past twenty years, I've completed two non-fiction books, three novels (two for adults, one for kids) and a wide variety of articles on spec. I had no deadlines for these projects - in fact, when I wrote them, I wasn't even sure if anyone else would read them. Still, they got written and most got revised and submitted. A few even got accepted, and one or two are waiting their turn to be revised and submitted. None of these projects had deadlines, and yet I completed them anyway.

Deadline-addicted or not, I recognize the value of assigning tasks a home, a concept clarified for me by author and organization guru Julie Morgenstern. Morgenstern says that if tasks have no home (you haven't set a specific time to do them), they won't get done. Making appointments for your tasks, as it were, isn't exactly the same as setting deadlines, but it can have the same effect. Deciding when you're going to do a specific task and writing it on the calendar for that time elevates its priority - much as a deadline does - and increases the odds that you'll do the thing you said you would. In addition, it gives you permission to tackle only part of your to-do list in any given day. And since most of us have enough items on our to-do lists to fill all 24 hours in the day for a week or more, assigning tasks a home is a more focused and  realistic approach to to checking things off our lists.

So, now that I have that contract in hand, revisions are on my calendar - every weekday - until they're done. Since I have other things on my calendar as well, my challenge will be finding a balance, and one idea that I'm trying is blocking out an hour a day for revisions. If things are going well, and time permits, I can overrun the hours. If it's a particularly frustrating day, I'm "allowed" to stop after an hour and pursue other tasks. 

So, if you will excuse me, I have some revisions to tackle.


  1. CONGRATULATIONS on your new book, Lisa! That's awesome! And I totally agree with your deadline philosophy. I typically use self-imposed deadlines, but I haven't been super strict with myself in regard to them. That's one of my goals for 2013. I'm forcing myself to stick to them better!

    Best of luck with your editing schedule! I really like your blog background by the way. ;o)

  2. Thanks, Holly! The blog background was a change for 2013. I now have a new assist in sticking to those deadlines - I've been assigned an editor! That should get me moving!!