Sometimes deadlines seem like a bad thing. They can cause pressure and anxiety. Sometimes they deprive you of sleep or the ability to relax and watch baseball on TV.

Sometimes deadlines are a good thing, though. When you’re a freelancer like I am, you need to constantly have projects going so you can continue to pay your bills. Lately I’ve been working on several different projects with overlapping due dates. Although that has on occasion proved stressful, it’s far better than not having enough work (or enough money coming in).

Deadlines are also good because they help me focus. The more projects I’m juggling, the better organized I am about getting them all done. I’m far more productive when I’m really busy than when I’m not. Freelancers typically use the slack time in between projects to write query letters and conduct other marketing activities. I do, too, but I’m not nearly as productive as when I’m really busy. For instance, I’m drafting this blog entry at the Newark Public Library as I wait for John to return to Newark after an away soccer game. I will knock out the rough draft in the 20 minutes I have available; if I had an entire afternoon free, I would no doubt spend it drafting the same piece in roughly the same words. The old adage really is true–work expands to fill the time allotted to it.

As a writer, I find that the more I have to do, the more I get done. I’m not only more efficient about getting the deadline assignments done, but I’m also more effective at working ahead on other projects. When things are slack, I find it all too easy to be both physically and mentally lazy. I try to work ahead on large long-term projects such as book manuscripts, but without a specific deadline to push me, I too often let things slide. I do work on them, but I’m not nearly as focused as if there’s a deadline pending.

Sometimes I try to trick myself by creating an artificial deadline. Those aren’t nearly as motivating as a hard, firm due date, however. For more than 25 years I edited a publication, and my work life revolved around meeting the deadlines for that publication. That’s how I operate best. In short, like many writers, I need the pressure created by a deadline to spur me on to peak efficiency. I am not, by the way, advocating putting things off until the last minute to create deadline pressure. Rather, I’m suggesting that people should maintain a full life with lots of worthwhile projects and activities. That way we will find ourselves working to be more efficient in order to meet all of our obligations.

Random Thought of the Week: We spent a thoroughly enjoyable day last Saturday celebrating our daughter’s birthday and watching her play field hockey for her college. Her first semester also illustrates the principle discussed above. Just a week before classes started, she was invited to try out for the field hockey team. I worried about whether she would be able to manage the almost daily practices while also adjusting to college life and meeting the demands of a rigorous class schedule. After the first few weeks, she reported that she felt tired but that she was managing her time more efficiently because she had so much to do. She says all is going well; we’ll know for sure when her mid-term grades come out!

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