The Heat Is On

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Heat is On.”

I’m always focused on deadlines when I am at work. Some of them are very specific. Others are implied. When it comes to writing, though, I need to create my own deadlines. And those don’t always work for me.

When I’m at work and part of a project team, if my deadlines aren’t met, no one can move forward and all timelines have to be recalculated and extra people may be recruited to get things back on time, and that takes money and no one likes to spend money at work. It’s all about doing only what you have to, seeing how much you can get away with not doing, and paying as little as possible for what you have to do.

For those projects, I make myself finish in half the time, and spend the other half tearing at it like I hate it and want to see it destroyed. That way, when it is presented to the team, I have prepared myself for all of the objections and questions that everyone will inevitably have. In most cases, the objections are constructive, coming from people who want to see the project succeed. In the loudest cases, the objections are merely because ‘haters are gonna hate’. That took me a long time to accept, that adults do things like that, but they do and it’s best to be prepared for them.

The implied deadlines are those ominous emails, coming from corporate head office, or from the vice president, or worse yet, from the corporate head office of your customer or the vice president of your customer. They don’t say exactly when they want an answer, and the emails are never more than four sentences. They begin with the phrase ‘Can you tell me’ or ‘What do you know about’. They follow with an event that needs describing or data that needs to be analyzed from a specific period of time. They end with something about getting back as soon as you have data. Usually, they are sent just to you and copy only your direct boss. Those are emails that need to be answered before you go home, needs ninety or more megabytes of spreadsheet analysis, and cannot be an answer that is more than three or four sentences long. They take all day to wall day to write and once it’s sent, you re-read it and wonder what you’ve done all day.

I have tried very, very hard to make writing the same thing. But marking a day on the calendar that reads “I will write 90 000 words by the end of the month” or creating a daily reminder that “I will write 3 000 words today” isn’t creating a deadline. It is a window dressing at best. It makes it look like you are doing all that you can to finish what you start.

Colour coded sticky notes and the bleeps and bloops of digital calendars aren’t deadlines. Deadlines have to posses meaning.

If I don’t finish that project at work, it will cost time and money to get it back and track. If I don’t get back to that vice president, I am telling them they are not important and I have better things to do. If I don’t finish that story…. Meh. No biggie. I’ll get back to it tomorrow. Finishing that story needs to mean something for the deadline to be important.

I’m great out of the gate. I can make plans and outlines and landmarks to be on the lookout for on the path to success. I’m great at that. And for the first few weeks, it looks great. And then I miss the one gate. And I replant and move forward. And I miss another. And then another. And then suddenly, I see all the work it will take to get back on schedule and I shut it down. A week later, I’ve got another idea and the cycle starts again.

To make deadlines work, I need to enlist the aid of people that are dependent on those deadlines. Like, starting a story for my daughter and having her read it and fall in love with it and bug me over and over again to finish it. Or, writing an outline for a novel and writing a few thousand words of it at a time and giving it to a friend and having them email me over and over again to finish it or, better yet, give me suggestions on how to move forward. Those are two things that give my deadlines meaning and help me to get the work done.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m behind schedule on both of the examples I’ve given and thank God those people don’t let me forget it. Sure, for some people it might look like I’m treating it like work, and yeah, they’d be right. But for me, the work of it is half the fun.  

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