Hump Day: How not to tame your dastardly deadline dragon

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

When you work in a deadline-driven world, it’s difficult to relate to taking things easy or having lots of time to work on a project.

In addition to that horrible habit about which I recently wrote — going to bed very late and getting up very early — another bad habit that’s become entrenched into my work life seems to be the inability to work unless there’s a gun pointed at my head and a drill sergeant screaming into my ear like you see in those old war movies.

“Get that work done, now, soldier! This is an emergency! The pressure is high! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get ‘er done, you sorry piece of…” I’ll just leave it at that.

Having worked for many years in public relations firms and in communications-related government positions, writing to deadline became a ritual. And, needless to say, as a columnist who’s written more than 700 of these things over the years, I can tell you that they don’t exactly hold the presses for your column because you missed a deadline — not that I or anyone else has a choice. A publication has to go to press by a certain time to be distributed. It’s just part of the business. You’re either on board or you’re not.

My journalism education drilled the importance of deadlines into me. If you missed a deadline, they put the “dead” in deadline, let’s just say that. There was none of this, “Oh, it’s gonna be a couple of more hours before I get that feature story on ingrown toenails to you. You don’t mind, do you?” Why yes, actually they did mind. They minded a lot.

Every week, I write two columns for this newspaper — the one you’re reading now and Social Media Matters, which appears in the Metro section on Fridays. Because the importance of deadlines was drilled into me in university, I tend not to miss deadlines. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve never missed one, other than by a minute or two and you can be sure the editor knew it was on its way.

In fact, every week, I practically have nightmares about missing deadlines. I have them written down in my personal organizer and also have multiple alerts set up on my computer. Starting on Thursday, I start getting pop-ups on my computer screen warning me that the deadline is coming and that I’d better start coming up with ideas. Just the thought of missing a deadline gives me hives.

With all that said, this deadline-driven mentality that has taken over my work habits over the years has instilled a maddening habit of only being able to work under pressure. The drill sergeant yelling in my ear. The clock ticking. The alerts popping up on my screen. The personal organizer full of dire warnings and highlighted deadlines with red stars drawn beside them to ensure I realize the importance of the task when I see it.

Now that I work for myself, deadlines are especially important because I have clients. If the clients aren’t happy, I risk them not wanting to do business with me again. If they don’t do business with me again, then I don’t make money. If I don’t make money, well then I’ve got some explaining to do to the bank. “You know that mortgage payment deadline? Well, I’m going to miss it this month. You don’t mind, do you?” Well, they may not mind that much because they charge me extra interest, but that’s not something you can do every month.

The worst thing a client or editor can say to a person like me who only seems to work well under pressure is, “Oh, just send it in whenever you get around to it. It’s not urgent.” Well, shoot me now. I get assignments all the time with no set deadline and I’ll often tell the client, “For the love of all this holy, give me a deadline! I can’t work without that drill sergeant screaming in my ear! We work well together!”

A prime example of this is several years ago when somehow I found out that you didn’t have to file your income tax every year. Oh, you have to eventually, don’t get me wrong, but if you missed the deadline and the government owes you money, well who cares, eh? I played that little game for a few years until I got a nice letter from the government “strongly suggesting” that I get my act together — the drill sergeant yelling in my ear, so to speak.

Within a week, I’d hired an accountant, gone through a few years’ worth of receipts and statements, and got everything done. In the end, I had to pay a few hundred dollars — nothing major by any means — but the bottom line is that I needed that deadline.

Let’s just say they only had to tell me once. These days, my business HST payments and annual income tax returns are filed on time and paid on time. It will be a cold day in hell before I get another letter from the government telling me to file my tax return. Oh, they’ll get their money and they’ll get it with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. The more taxes I pay, the more money I’m earning, so I don’t mind.

In university, I tried an experiment once. Like many students, I was notorious for only being able to get papers done at the last minute. They’d be done on time, but they’d be done with no time to spare. Once, I decided to finish one nice and early. I sat back and looked at my glorious creation. I was proud of myself — until I got my pitiful mark back from the professor. That was the last time I did that!

I doubt I’ll ever change unless, of course, I set a deadline for it. Hmmm…

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