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How to Meet Your Deadlines by Rochelle Melander

file3171299616544How did it get so late so soon? —Dr. Seuss.

June was a busy month for me. Between teaching and conferences, my weekends were booked solid. So I tried to move some of my weekend chores to the weekdays. I figured I could easily complete a few editing projects, lead online classes, see clients and do the laundry. More times than I care to admit, I’ve started a load of clothes only to find them three days later, turning moldy in the washing machine. Yuck!

I’ve been done in by what scientists call the planning fallacy. (Don’t worry, you can’t catch it.) But know that you probably suffer from it, too. Here’s a quick quiz. Think back on past writing and work projects:

+Have you ever underestimated the time it will take you to complete a task?

+Have you ever underestimated the external resources you need to complete a task (e.g., money, research time, outside experts, editors, marketing professionals, etc.)?

+Have you ever created a project plan without taking into account external circumstances like illness, meetings, computer problems, and writer’s block?

No doubt you answered yes to at least one of those questions. (If you said no to all three questions, send me an email. I want to learn your strategies!) In a 1994 study of psychology students, they calculated how long it would take them to finish their senior thesis for both best-case and worst-case scenarios. Guess what? Most students took longer to finish their paper than their estimated worst-case scenario.

Why? Psychologists have several theories for why we suffer from the planning fallacy.

+We tend to want to impress others, so we make optimistic estimates. (When participants made anonymous estimates, the planning fallacy disappeared.)

+We tend to take credit for things that go well and blame outside forces for setbacks.

+We focus on the project in isolation and forget about other factors such as sickness, other projects, external delays, and so forth.

The problem? So what’s the big deal, you wonder. When we fail to plan well, we end up rushing through the end of the project, sometimes pulling all-nighters. Worst-case scenario? We miss our deadlines.

The fix? Keeping detailed work records can help us plan better. When we record our work time, noting any delays, we can create more realistic plans for future writing and editing projects.

Try this:

Review three past writing experiences.

+How many hours did it take you to complete the project?

+How much calendar time did it take to complete the project? (E.g., It might take you six hours to write a proposal, but the project took a total of two weeks because you needed to wait for data from an outside source.)

+What external delays did you encounter while working on the project? (E.g., waiting for an editor to review your manuscript, waiting to hear from a resource.)

+What internal delays did you experience? (E.g., exhaustion, illness, writer’s block).

Once you have collected this data, you can create a writing project schedule that works!

Pro Tip: Always add a bit of extra time to your estimate—just in case you need it. You may not use it, but when you do need it, you’ll be thankful to have it!

Your turn: How have you been done in by the planning fallacy? How have you overcome it? Add your stories and solutions below!


7 Responses

  1. The only way I’ve recently discovered to overcome this “planning fallacy” is to DROP EVERYTHING and spend a 15-minute burst of activity on that one particular project I’ve been avoiding or not spending time with. 15 minutes and not a minute more. I set a timer. I tell myself, for those precious 15 minutes, the thing I’m doing is the ONLY thing I’ll do and I can say it builds a feeling of accomplishment and focus. Then you can plan another 15 minutes later. Set an alarm. And do it. Before you know it, you’ll have spend 1/2-hour or an hour on that pesky project or assignent, though only 15 minutes at a time. Works for me, anyway.

    1. writenowcoach

      Love it. I like the timer idea–it’s concrete and limited so it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. Now to remember to use it!

  2. Right now my only writing deadlines are self-imposed, which is a good thing, and a bad thing. I find it (fairly) easy to work on the short projects like blog posts, in short bursts, but editing the last novel, or working on the new one… aargh! Social Media, news, day job, shiny!

    Plus the weather fluctuations get to me; if my place is too hot when I get home from the day job, I can’t THINK, let alone write – or edit.

    Am trying to make myself edit at least one chapter each night of the last novel, till it is DONE, and using the AC as needed to stop the too hot excuse.

    1. writenowcoach

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m so impressed on how much you get done–with a day job! I have a much easier time drafting new stuff than revising, especially fiction. So I hear you on that. I think you’re on to something with the air: I just read a post on how a too-hot environment makes it hard to work. 🙂

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