Deadlines: How to Avoid What Could Be a Deadly Career Mistake

When clients hire you, they're looking for quality and price. So, give 'em great copy, charge a reasonable fee, and you're pretty much guaranteed to land another project. Right? Maybe, maybe not.

You must do one more thing to really be considered a success in a client's eyes: You have to meet the deadline. Missing a deadline can throw off your client's entire review, design, and production schedule. And that's unacceptable … possibly unforgivable.

One way to avoid missing a deadline is to refuse an assignment if you know you can't finish it on time. (You should, of course, explain why you're not accepting the work.) However, once you accept an assignment, you have to take steps to make sure you meet the deadline.

When I accept a new project, I …

  • Immediately jot down the deadline on a three-month dry-erase board I keep in my office. That way, I see all of my deadlines every day.
  • Make sure my client sends me everything I need upfront.
  • Start doing my research right away.
  • Start each day with 10-20 minutes of quiet/meditation time to get focused.
  • Work backward from the deadline, setting daily goals that will allow me to complete my project(s) on time.
  • Work in 1- to 2-hour increments to complete my daily to-do list. I work as many hours as it takes to meet my daily goals.
  • Take a 10-15 minute break if I get stuck.
  • Try to complete the first draft several days to a week before the deadline. (Sometimes, that means writing several drafts until I come up with the "right" one.) That gives me time to do at least 3-5 rewrites/revisions.
  • Never send a final draft the night before a deadline. Instead, I get some rest (inevitably, a good idea comes to me during the night), get up early the next morning, and hone the copy before sending it later that morning.

These are the steps I follow to keep me on track. Obviously, there are many, many other things you can do to make sure you don't miss a deadline. Here's a tip from fellow student Charles Pruett on a method he uses to meet deadlines:

Write the flow of your subheads first. Then, commit to writing a certain portion of the package by the halfway point. Charles usually writes at least 60% of the package by the time he's halfway between start and finish. That way, he has plenty of time for polishing before the deadline.

See if some of these ideas help you avoid the costly mistake of missing a deadline. Whether you're working on a spec or paid assignment – or trying to quickly work your way through the copywriting course – setting and meeting deadlines requires taking responsibility for yourself.

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Published: September 15, 2003

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