How to stop missing deadlines

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Are you already a Timely Tom or Tina? Or do you need to learn how to stop missing deadlines?

Are you the kind of writer who misses deadlines?

I know you well. In fact, I used to be you. 

When I was at university, many decades ago, I had a difficult time with deadlines. I tried hard to meet them, often staying up all night to research and write. But sometimes I just couldn’t manage finishing on time. 

One day, I was about a week late with a paper and I accidentally strolled by the prof’s office. Yikes! There he was, sitting at his desk, reading. I ran. He chased after me, caught up and then told me in the nicest possible way that I really needed to hand in that paper ASAP. A truly great teacher (who has since become a friend – hi Don!), he didn’t even dock any marks from me. 

People miss deadlines for many reasons. The most common one is perfectionism — the one that always undid me. Our words don’t live up to our images of ourselves and our “inner editors” go bonkers. “Surely you can do better than that,” we say to ourselves. “You’re such a loser.” This feedback makes writing so unpleasant, we put it off. 

But there are other reasons for missing deadlines: perhaps you’re too disorganized (meaning you forgot about the deadline because you didn’t write it down, or you thought the deadline was later). Maybe you were sick or had to tend to a sick family member. Perhaps you were overly optimistic about how much you’d be able to do, how quickly? 

In some ways, however, it doesn’t matter what your reas excuses might be. Here are 10 ways to meet your deadlines:

1-Organize yourself better: Everyone’s system is going to be a little different, but develop a way of being able to view all of your deadlines in one place. You can use software if you like or go old-school and just put sticky notes on the calendar in front of you. If you take even this small step, you’ll be able to spot conflicts easily and quickly — when you have plenty of time to resolve them. To make your system really effective, be sure to record all your writing assignments as soon as you receive them

2-Make sure you understand what’s expected of you: There’s nothing worse than being just before the due date and discovering that you’re missing some information that you need in order to finish the job. Study your assignment carefully to be sure you understand all aspects of it and you won’t leave yourself in the lurch at the last moment.

3-Break big projects into smaller chunks: It’s overwhelming and discouraging to have an enormous project and no idea about when you’re going to finish it. Instead, turn your “monster” into a dozen “mini-monsters.” This is about more than psychology. Research has shown that human beings are much better at tracking and completing small tasks than ‘managing their time.’ 

4-Be realistic: Many of us become blissfully upbeat when planning how we’re going to attack that next writing project. We always think that future Daphne or future Dave is going to be more accomplished and more productive than they can ever be. Productivity researchers call this problem the “planning fallacy.” Be aware of it — it affects all human beings — and allow yourself plenty of time to work around it. (Tips 5 to 7 will help.)

5-Front-load your days and weeks: Most of us can do more at 7 or 8 am than at 3 pm and more on Mondays and Tuesdays than Thursdays or Fridays. Why? We have more energy earlier in the day/week and our willpower is higher. If a writing project is important to you, work on it first in the day and first in the week. Not only will you be faster, but the work will also seem easier to you.

6-Stop editing while writing: Editing while writing not only makes you a lousy writer, it makes you a crummy editor as well. (You don’t yet have enough perspective.) In my Get It Done writing program, I focus on breaking this habit and it’s the single accomplishment my clients most celebrate reaching. It helps most of them more than double their writing speed. Read some tips here.  

7-Work in pomodoros: Set a timer for 25 minutes and then give your writing project your total concentration. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t check email. Don’t surf the internet or check Facebook. Don’t do anything except your work. As soon as the timer “dings,” take a regulated five-minute break and then start on another pomodoro. I’ve been working this way for almost 15 years now and I can tell you that my writing productivity took a gigantic leap as soon as I started using this system.

8-Understand the perils of Parkinson’s law: Writing always expands to fill available time. Also known as Parkinson’s Law, this principle means that if you give yourself a large amount of time for writing, you will need all of it. The rule applies to all areas of life, including house-cleaning and project-management, but it’s an acute issue for writers. If you give yourself six hours to complete what should have been a two-hour writing project, I guarantee you will use every minute. Conversely, if you challenge yourself to write in a shorter amount of time — even an unreasonably short amount — you’ll likely get the work done in the shorter time frame.

9-Generate automated reminders of upcoming due dates: You know the automated reminders you get from your dentist’s office? You can set up the same thing for yourself. I just use my to-do software (Zenkit ToDo) which allows me to attach a due date to every task. Note that I don’t schedule the job for the actual due date – I schedule it well before that — for when I want to begin working on the project. It’s amazing what we can forget without reminders like this.

10-Start and finish early: In my early university days, I prided myself on my “just-in-time” essay writing. The result? I sometimes missed deadlines. Now I pride myself on always starting and finishing early. These days, I leave nothing to the last minute because I know that’s only going to stress me out and make my life unpleasant. I’d much rather work on a project for a small amount of time daily for, say, 15 days, then leave it all to a mad clump of panic the day before it’s due. 

And I’ve never known a client to be unhappy about getting their work early


Do you need to hire an editor — but don’t know how to do it or you’re worried about the cost? Learn where to find editors and how to save money doing it with help from my new rapid-fire How to Hire an Editor online course. 


My video podcast last week described how to write better blog posts. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  


How do you make sure you meet your deadlines? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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