Deadlines can be a blessing or a curse. An achievable deadline can be our ally. It focuses us. A realistic deadline that allows us to write a well-planned and executed professional report will have positive and far-reaching outcomes. Not only is the report more likely to be acted upon, we have earned the respect and admiration of our employer.
Many people say they need the adrenaline hit of leaving their writing tasks to the last minute. While the stress of the impending deadline might kick-start you into action, this practice can lead to mistakes including embarrassing typos and fundamental errors in information. The consequences of this range from misguided decision-making to lost productivity and damage to the reputation of both you and your organisation.
So how can you produce quality work yet still meet your deadlines? A combination of a realistic deadline and good planning are critical. Here are 10 tips that may well see your deadline dilemmas disappear:
1. Negotiate an achievable deadline. To set your deadline, list the tasks you need to complete, then work backwards from the due date. To reach a realistic estimate, work out how long you think you'll need, then double or even triple that time.
2. Build in contingency time. Give yourself an earlier deadline than the actual deadline and work to that earlier deadline. Down the track, you’ll be glad of the 'extra' time.
3. Set milestones. For long-term projects, set a deadline for each stage of the project. Keep an eye on the deadlines and try not to fall behind in the early stages.
4. Don’t put it off. Procrastination is your worst deadline enemy. Even if all you do to begin your document is to jot down a few ideas, just get started.
5. Work from the macro to the micro. When you’re working on your first draft, focus on the big picture. Don’t get bogged down with minute details (save that for editing and proofreading).
6. Keep moving. If you become stuck on a section, or can’t think of the right word, move on and come back to that section, or word, later.
7. Prompt yourself. For regular writing tasks, such as monthly reports, set reminders in Outlook or your mobile. Don’t delete the reminder until you have actually begun writing.
8. Hold others accountable. If you’re relying on information from other people, contact them early so the information is to hand when you need it.
9. Pace yourself. Don't try and write the whole document in one sitting. Instead, chip away at it. In particular, leave some time between writing your first draft and revising it. You’ll achieve a better result this way.
10. Take breaks. If you feel yourself becoming unproductive, switch to another task for a short time, then come back to your writing.
The ability to manage deadlines while producing quality work is a juggling act worth perfecting. For help with the final stages of writing, you could consider contracting a professional editor or proofreader. Not only will this buy you time, you’ll end up with a more polished product.
To find out how we can help you manage your writing tasks, contact Patricia Hoyle at Concise Writing Consultancy on 02 9238 6638.