As a freelance writer, nothing annoys me more than a client who tells me, “Oh, just get it to me whenever you can.” I hate it! I need deadlines in order to schedule and prioritize my work. I do what I can to get clients to nail down a deadline, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. That’s when I have to go to Plan B: the ‘fake’ deadline.
Fake is a bit of a misnomer — I should really refer to it as a self-assigned deadline. There is a reason that I call such deadlines fakes, though: there doesn’t really seem to be any sort of consequence for not completing the project on time, or even ever. I hear “whenever” from a client and I translate it to “never.” I’ve even worked it out logically. If a client doesn’t feel a project is important enough to have a deadline, it must not be important to her. I know I’m far more likely to procrastinate on a project that doesn’t feel important, and even if I get to it, I’ll dilly-dally on it. I won’t put out my full effort to getting it done and off my to-do list like I would for a time-sensitive project.
Following Through on Fake Deadlines
My reasoning aside, though, I don’t get paid for projects that don’t get done. I have to make sure that I finish projects, even those without deadlines, so that I can move on to other work and other paychecks. I have to make those self-assigned deadlines feel real.
Give the Client a Deadline: I’ve found that I can make a deadline real by getting a client’s approval for it. I may do nothing more than send out an email saying that I’ll have the project done by Friday — or any other specific date — but it’s enough to create an expectation in both the client and myself that I’ll be done by that deadline. Even a little bit of outside expectation can be enough to get me out of a procrastinating mindset. I’ve created such expectations with individuals other than my client, as well (there could be any number of reasons you wouldn’t want to pin down a specific date for your client). I find just telling a friend that I’ll be working on a given project today can get me moving. There’s still less of a consequence in not completing a task I told a friend about than a deadline I mentioned to a client.
Think About the Money: I’m afraid I’m quite the money-grubbing capitalist. One of my best motivators is thinking about where a particular paycheck is going to go. For instance, I may have an open-ended project that, if I just get it done before the end of the week, I should get the money in time to pay my rent. While money may not be the only reason that I work on a project, it is definitely an important aspect.
Focus on the Client: I often do projects where I am the client — I’m the person assigning the deadlines, which can be a real problem for ensuring that the project gets done. Writing for my personal blog is a great example. It can be hard for me to convince myself to devote money to a project that isn’t going to immediately contribute to paying my bills and could be done at any time. I have to separate myself from the project and think of someone else as my client. For my blog, my readers might be my clients: they expect posts every so often and anything I can do to make my blog more reader-friendly is going to make my clients/readers happier.
Don’t Make It A Rainy Day Project: I think most of us have lists of things we’ll get to when we don’t have anything better to do — maybe on a rainy day. Sometimes projects with no due date in sight wind up on that list, pushed off until we have time for it. Well, I always have something better to do: I can get a head start on upcoming projects, bake cookies or read that book I’ve been dying to find time to read. I can’t allow projects that I actually intend to do to wind up on that list.
Create Fake Rewards: I’ve found that rewarding myself for getting a job done is especially effective for short-term deadlines. For instance, I’ll tell myself that if I meet one of my ‘fake’ deadlines by the end of the day, I’ll make one of my favorite dinners. I try to scale the reward to the size of the project — I wouldn’t want to make my reward buying something more expensive than the payout for the project. But even something little can motivate me to just finish the project. I’ve heard of people making fake penalties for not following through on a particular assignment, but, personally, I’ve just never been able to follow through on that sort of punishment — it feels far more fake than my little rewards.
Do It Now: If I have a small project that I can easily get done in the time I have left today, I’ll do it. One of my biggest problems with self-assigned deadlines is that they will get pushed back in favor of more immediate due dates. So, if I find myself with time, I like to knock out work while I’m thinking about it. My only concern is letting clients think that I will always turn around a project that quickly.