May 232014

Tick tock ... tick tock ...

Tick tock … tick tock …

I got into a discussion — okay, call it a debate — about the best motivation to push a project forward.

Put a date on it.

That’s the final leg of the so-called SMART goals that are all the rage these days. Depending on who you listen to, the other four parts may include (s)pecific, (m)easurable, (a)ttainable and (r)ealistic. It’s that fifth one that remains the same no matter who interprets the goals, so it must be important.

In the acrostic, T stands for time-sensitive. There’s a deadline attached.

I’m an old journalist and I know what blowing a deadline means. It means you’re fired. So it’s important stuff.

In the real world of creating and hopefully finishing things, a deadline means something else:

It means you’re serious.

It means you will start, and finish. Or at least you’ve improved the odds considerably.

You’ve made a date.

Michael Hyatt gets more projects and requests than any person can name. He’s a busy guy. But when he’s really serious about getting something done he puts it on his calendar. He’s adamant about not blowing off appointments.

For me, the simple act of putting a date on something became a revelation.

See, I’ve always had a gazillion projects going on.I’m busy, reasonably unfocused and admittedly manic enough to load my to-do lists until they break. So I’ll stuff things in there, give it a shake in the hope that everything will settle on shipping, then load it some more.

With my first fiction work, I decided to try something different. I experimented with deadlines.

I set one for completing the first draft, one for the second draft, another for the final draft and a fourth for shipping.

Nailed ‘em all. And this is a guy who can’t complete anything.

Until I put a date on something I’m just screwing around.

I’m a wanna-be with an amateur’s attitude.

Professionals take their work seriously. Pros also get stuff done.

If I look real hard at those twin statements, I just might find a connection.

I have another fiction project in the works, and am now finishing the second draft. That’s the one where I sort through the hastily-thrown-down first draft and ruthlessly kill those wonderful turns of phrase I fell in love with but they don’t move the story forward.

My self-imposed deadline for the second draft is May 31, and based on my progress I’m going to achieve that with time to spare. And that’s after taking several days off for a cross-country drive.

I’m gonna knock it out of the park.

If you’re a real killer in the getting-stuff-done world, you can double your fun by publicizing your deadline. Put it up on Facebook, Twitter, even on LinkedIn.

As I wrote this I decided to eat my own dog food here. I posted on Twitter:

creativedanger May 13, 6:26pm via HootSuite

On 2nd draft of my new novel Damage Control. Self-imposed deadline is May 31. I’m gonna nail it. #amwriting

That’s going public. What’s even more public is putting it up on LinkedIn, which goes out to a more professional network. These folks know me and are about something.

So I guess that means I’m kinda serious.


Talk to me: Do you impose deadlines? Do you publicize them? Please share.

Apr 102013
little blue pills

If you miss a goal, treat it the same way as a missed dose. No do-overs.

If you’ve ever had a prescription for some really strong drugs, you’ll probably remember the doctor’s stern advice/warning about taking them. One that particularly sticks out in my mind is this: If you miss a dosage, wait until your next scheduled time and resume. With a single dose, not double.

This really makes sense, and it really applies to my creative practice too. So I miss my 1,500 words today. So what about tomorrow? Do I shoot for 3,000?

Wrong again. I try for 1,500 again tomorrow. Creativity is tough enough without the pressure, and the worst kind is the pressure I put on myself. Tomorrow’s a fresh day. 1,500 is sufficient. Now if I really bring the chandeliers down tomorrow and slam down 3,000 or 4,000 words, I won’t complain. But I’m not going to chase it. 1,500 is still tomorrow’s goal.

# # #

Jan 142013

[This week we get to talk backwards, think backwards, do things backwards. Sometimes going at things backwards is a good way to plan and execute a project. But not always, so don’t get too hooked on the idea.]

So we were starting a newspaper almost from scratch, and we needed to figure out all the deadlines for all the steps. I mean, we writers live and die by deadlines, and it helps to know what they are.

My editor, Charlie Hand, knew when we needed to have our issue on the street. He knew how long it would take to print it. He figured we needed a certain amount of time for edit and paste-up. From that info he set the copy and photo deadlines.

I learned from watching, and still use this model. When planning a multi-step project, more than likely I’ll work backwards.