How to Meet Deadlines — Even If the World’s Ending

By Bethany Johnson, Contributor, on December 5, 2016

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One morning, I woke up to find my world on fire.

As a successful freelancer, I carefully arrange everything in a way uniquely conducive to my work, so I found it especially funny (by this, I mean not funny at all) to see it collapsing around me. The dog was loose, the kids were sick, the roof sprung a leak, a crying friend was begging to talk and the internet was down. Oh, and there was nothing in the fridge.

I planned to meet deadlines for two clients that day, but as I scrambled to smother one fire after another, new problems kept popping up. The achievements I’d envisioned for that morning slowly disintegrated before my eyes.

Sort It Out

Can we be real for a second? If you, as a freelancer, haven’t experienced a day like this yet — you will. Life occasionally dumps everything on you all at once. And, when you’re down to the wire on work, it’s a safe bet to expect this downpour at its worst.

Thankfully, you don’t need to fall victim to ugly surprises. You can nail your deadlines and handle your circumstances without losing your mind by taking several actions to keep your head above water and get yourself back on track.

Some things are within your control, and others are not. You cannot control the weather, but you can easily phone your client as soon as you know you’ll need a deadline extension. Make two lists: one detailing things you can influence today, and one with things beyond your control. Immediately crumple and trash the latter.

Tackle the Urgent Items

Stabilize your situation by shelving the less urgent issues. Attend to priorities first, like caring for dependents and tending to your own health. This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how tempting it is to disappear into work when your priorities need you most.

Once everyone’s safe and well, take a second look at your list. Is there anything your partner can take on? Can you delegate to friends or family members? For example, it’s much easier to call in a favor to cover your potluck dish than it is to simultaneously cook and meet deadlines. Asking for help is a sign of strength and good judgment, and in these cases, it’s smart to lean on your network.

Once you can finally focus on your work, keep any stress in check. Mild pressure is a healthy force that incites the best creatives to produce quality work, but when multiple demands pile up, true stress creeps in. Unhealthy stress actually keeps you from hammering out work, and knowing the difference between pressure and stress is the first step to reclaiming the day. Stress is a force within your control, so meet it head-on with proven stress relief techniques and positive self-talk.

Prevent Future Pressure

With a stabilized situation, you can put effort into preventing the same chaotic quandary in the future. Here’s how:

  • Work in a buffer. When your client sets a deadline, mark it on your schedule for 12 hours prior.
  • Start early. No, you don’t need to begin pounding away at the keyboard as soon as an assignment hits your desk. You should, however, immediately start thinking about it in your free time. Consider and plan the client’s project between your kids’ soccer practices, during commercial breaks and when waiting in line at the bank.
  • Build trust. Aim to consistently meet deadlines, so your client never questions your ability to deliver the goods. When calamities pile up, there’s nothing better than relying on a strong reputation to cushion your fall.

Today, my fridge is full, and my dog is obedient. But I won’t kid myself: Anything can happen tomorrow, so I’m investing a little extra to cover myself when the inevitable happens.

Nothing feels better than being prepared, except showing others how to do the same! Send this article to a fellow freelancer who tends to live the harried life, and comment below with additional tips you’d recommend to combat the days where everything implodes.

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