Watch out! It’s a deadline crash!

In my year-end post, I believe that I listed “Time management and scheduling” as an area for improvement in 2011. Two months in? Not doing so great. I have never been busier in the nearly 8 years since I started The Tobin Touch. Which is good, fantastic even, except that it requires me to have at least some proficiency in scheduling so that I can make my deadlines without going completely batty and working until 3 AM. (And dropping deadlines is not an option – see my last post.)

February was a very good month, and March is shaping up to be the same, but I am entering this next month determined to manage my time more effectively. Admittedly, I have a lot of things to manage outside of my freelance business, but I think that I can make a few adjustments to improve my schedule.

I work on my freelance business every day, but some days I do more of the administrative stuff. Contracts, invoices, correspondence, etc. Here and there I might take an evening off, particularly when I have a deadline that is a bit off in the distance somewhere. Or several smaller projects come in with shorter turnaround times, and I focus on those. All the while, my projects with longer deadlines are there, waiting for me.

And this is my downfall, because as the smaller projects’ deadlines start to overlap with the longer projects’ deadlines, I experience a “deadline crash” where I am looking at several days of non-stop work, day and night. And that’s just not a good way to operate.

So for my sanity’s sake, I decided to take a closer look at why these deadline crashes happen. I’m not lazy, taking an evening off here and there. I’m not taking on too much work (though this may be debatable). I think it might stem from me being project-oriented. I focus on a project and get it done. This approach is okay for shorter projects. Manuscript editing, a poster, a Web article. I set aside 2 or 3 days on my schedule and get it done. But with larger projects (grant writing, research, conference reports), this isn’t going to work.

If I can get more comfortable with the idea that I will need to work on some projects a little each day, and I won’t be finished in 2 or 3 days, I think I can avoid my schedule crashes. And I also need to get used to the idea of switching gears–setting down those longer projects I’ve been chipping away at to focus on a smaller project, then picking up the larger project where I left off.

Easier said than done, but as a scientist, I’m up for testing this hypothesis! I’ll report back on my findings. Until then…

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