Imagine this scenario…
You have a white paper to write for a very important client. You’ve been working on the white paper for the last couple of weeks, but you’ve fallen a little bit behind.
Suddenly, you realize the deadline to submit the first draft to the client is noon tomorrow and you’ve only written part of the first draft. You’re feeling the full effects of deadline stress.
Deadline stress can suck all the joy out of freelance copywriting. You could have a thriving business, but if you can’t deal with the stress of meeting deadlines consistently, you’re not going to enjoy your work.
Clearly, you need to have practical strategies to help you deal with deadline stress. Over the years, I’ve found seven ways to handle the stress so I enjoy my business more.
#1. Schedule Your Work on a Calendar
It doesn’t matter what kind of calendar you use. The calendar on your computer, in a planner, or even a paper calendar will work fine.
For example, let’s look at the white paper project that’s due tomorrow.
In order to come up with a rough draft by noon, you’re going to work on it from 3:00 until 5:00 today, and then for another hour after dinner, from 8:00 to 9:00. So, you’ve scheduled three hours to work on the white paper today.
Then tomorrow, you plan to start at 8:00 and work another four hours until noon, when it’s due. With a total of seven focused hours of work, you should have a fairly good, albeit a rough draft, by the deadline.
If you schedule your work carefully throughout the week, identifying which blocks of time you’re going to be working on which projects, then you can easily see how much time you have available for other projects.
When another project comes up that doesn’t fit in your schedule, then you can negotiate the project deadline with the client. Most clients are amenable to adjusting the date up front.
When you schedule your work in a calendar, you won’t overbook your time, avoiding last-minute stress.
#2. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
The second tip is related to the first tip. You may have already guessed what it is — don’t be overly ambitious when you schedule the time for the project.
When you set a goal for yourself, you create stress. For example, if you’re going to set a goal to run a marathon this year, it won’t be easy to achieve your goal.
You’ve got to do extra training, run a bit more each day, and do long runs once a week. It’s like a mountain you’re climbing — it’s challenging. That’s why they call it a goal.
But you don’t want apply the same ambition to scheduling your projects. If it usually takes four hours to write a case study, don’t schedule only three hours, hoping you can do it faster than usual.
That just causes unnecessary deadline stress. Instead, you want to do just the opposite. When scheduling your project, you want to give yourself plenty of time. If you think it normally takes two hours to get something done, schedule three hours for the project.
Always overestimate how long it’s going to take you to do a project, and then schedule those chunks of time in your calendar. If you get it done faster, you’ll have some bonus time to relax or get ahead on another project. Wouldn’t that be nice?
#3. Avoid Feeling Robbed
This may sound strange, but let me explain. Sometimes we end up with more work than we can handle during our normal work hours. So, we have to work extra hours — maybe a few hours in the evening, or a few hours on the weekend.
The problem is, it creates a feeling that we have been robbed of our time.
We’d rather spend the evening with family watching television. Instead we’ve got to sit here and write a case study, or finish copy for a website.
You feel robbed. Avoid that feeling, because if you don’t, it just makes the stress worse. It can affect your productivity. You won’t be able to write as well and as quickly as you normally would.
So, how do you avoid feeling robbed?
What I do is schedule the time.
For example, if I’m up against a deadline, and I realize I have to work Thursday evening, I’ll schedule that time as soon as I realize I need it.
I’ll say right after dinner, I’m going to work on this project an hour and a half from 7:00 until 8:30. Then at 8:30, I’m done and can go and spend some time with my wife and my daughter, watch TV, or do whatever I want to do in the evening.
Plan for the work time you need, then you’re not thinking of that time as personal time. I find it works quite well to avoid the feeling of being robbed.
#4. Don’t Make Your Client the Solution
If you’re up against a tight deadline and under a lot of pressure, you might feel the urge to contact your client and try to get an extension on your deadline.
You may want to tell them a hard luck story about something that happened that caused you to have to miss a deadline, and renegotiate your deadline.
I urge you not to do that unless it’s absolutely necessary. You might find that your client is very friendly and obliging, and they agree to give you a few more days. You think you’re off the hook, but you’re really not.
Even if the client is friendly and obliging, they’re going to remember you missed a deadline. You’re going to be pegged in their mind as a writer who doesn’t deliver on time. They can’t count on you. You don’t want to give them that impression.
Unless it’s absolutely necessary, meet your deadline. Don’t try to make your client the solution by asking your client to be inconvenienced by extending your deadline because you didn’t get the job done on time.
#5. Start Now
This tip is a little difficult, simply because I don’t really have a good strategy on how to do it. I can only tell you to do it — start now, not later.
My daughter in college will say she’s going to watch her favorite show on TV for an hour, then, she’ll work on her homework for an hour.
She has a plan in mind. But you know what? I suspect that if she did her homework first, and then watched television, she would get more homework done, and enjoy watching television that much more.
So start now, not later. If you have a tough deadline to meet, instead of blocking off two hours in your calendar this afternoon and waiting to start then, start now. Even if you only work for an hour or so.
Anything you do before you start the project is probably procrastination. You might think it’s something important, but it’s probably procrastination.
So start now and get some momentum. Trust me, you’ll feel much better if you do.
#6. Use the 50-Minute Focus Technique
All you need to use this technique is a simple timer. It can be a timer on your computer, your watch, or on your mobile device.
Set it to notify you after 50 minutes. Then, focus on the project you need to write until the alarm goes off. You don’t answer email. You don’t answer your phone. You don’t have any other distractions. You just focus on that project for 50 minutes, and avoid thinking or doing anything else.
If you can do that, you’d be surprised at how much you can accomplish on a project in 50 minutes. By the way, it doesn’t have to be a 50-minute chunk of time. It can be an hour, or just 30 minutes.
Experiment with the time period that works best for you, and you’ll be surprised how much you can write in a short period of time.
#7. Use a Progress Bar
Here’s a final technique that I’ve been trying recently that works surprisingly well. It’s going to sound a little bit silly, so bear with me on this one. The technique is to make your own progress bar.
What do I mean by that? Well I’m sure you’ve downloaded apps or software and noticed the progress bar as the software is installing.
The progress bar is there to help you feel less stressed. It actually has nothing to do with the software. I’ve been told it doesn’t really give you an accurate picture of how much progress the software has made in installing itself. It’s just there to make you feel better.
But it works, because it does make you feel better. You get a sense of progress, a sense of something happening. You can do that for yourself in your writing projects.
Here’s how I do it. I have index cards and a bulletin board. On each index card, I write down a certain milestone I want to hit on a project.
For example, the first index card might be researching. The next index card might be coming up with ideas and a general strategy for the piece. The next one might be the rough outline. The next card might be rough draft, and another one for the polished draft. Then, the last cards are proofreading and submitting it to the client.
Whenever I’ve finished one part of the project, let’s say it’s researching, I’ll put that up on the bulletin board. Then, when I finish the next part of the project, I’ll put the next index card on the bulletin board.
It creates a type of progress bar where I can see the progress from beginning to end. I know it seems silly, but it certainly reduces stress, because I can see the progress I’m making on a particular project and know how much further I have to go.
It’s really nice when I get towards the end of my progress bar and I only have one part left to do. It’s very motivating and relieves my stress. So give the progress bar a try.
So, there are my seven practical ways to avoid deadline stress. Give them a try and let me know in the comments how they work for you.