6 steps to meeting creative deadlines!

You have one day left to create something brilliant, the client has already called twice asking if the proofs are ready, the print house is scheduled to print a run of 10,000 copies first thing in the morning, your computer keeps freezing, and you haven’t even started yet. Been there?  We have all been stuck in our own personal deadline hell at one time or another – it can be hard to avoid. Deadlines are a huge part of the creative business and a necessary part of staying in business so we have to give them a high priority! I have compiled these six steps that can help you stay in control of deadlines, work more efficiently, and eliminate that last minute stress.

I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. – Douglas Adams

1- Take time to get organized

ID-100215167 Dry Erase BoardYou have been hearing this since you were a kid – you have to get organized. Why? Because it’s true! Granted you would rather spend time mixing your newest song or working on your latest script, but you have got to take the time to find a system to keep track of your deadlines! More importantly find a system that works for you. There are several ways you can do this.  A great number of software options are available that will do the trick.  In fact, you probably already have unused calendar and reminder apps on your computer or mobile device.  Others need something more visual and in-your-face, like a giant white board on the wall above their work space.  You may be one of those old school types that develop a method with calendars, lists, paper, and pencils.  If it works, go for it. I personally like to use spreadsheets so that I can customize it and print it daily to place in a binder next to my computer.  And if you are like a few creatives I know, you may need all of the above. The important thing is that you need to implement a system that works for you now, and stick with it!  You do not want any projects slipping through the cracks.

2- Prioritize and schedule your projects

Now that you have a clear system for documenting your deadlines it is time to prioritize them.  When possible, clear short projects quickly.  For example, if you are a photographer and a client calls in with a one hour Photoshop revision – do it right away and take that item off your to-do list.   Really big project can be managed by breaking them into a smaller series of tasks.  Doing this will allow you to not only schedule your time in easier managed segments but also give you that positive feeling of reaching goals.  Weigh the list of tasks carefully both by the client’s urgency and the project’s importance, and then prioritize into your newly created tracking system.  And a word of caution – always treat soft deadlines like hard deadlines.  For example, a director may tell a composer he needs the final score mastered by Friday when the composer knows the final sync session is not until the following week, the composer should not assume he can just use those extra days – he should give it to him on Friday!   There may be more to the deadline than you know.  The real bonus of a well-managed prioritized calendar is that it will allow you to focus more on what you love the most, to create.

3- Do not procrastinate.

There is a type of person out there who believes they only work well under last minute deadline pressure.  Please do not be this person.  It will have a negative impact on those around you and sets you up for an eventual failure.  When possible, impose your own self-deadlines earlier than the hard deadlines set by your client, because you never know when new projects are going to appear and you find yourself short on time.  And what if you are working right up to the clients deadline and suddenly you notice something that has to be re-mixed, re-cast, re-designed, etc? You will have to blow the deadline to fix it.  Missed deadlines cost money. The client could very easily replace you on the next project with someone who never misses a deadline.  And if you are lucky enough that no problems should arise, there is a clear advantage to not procrastinating.  You could use that extra time to make your creative work just a little better! 

Our films are never truly finished. We just get to stop at our deadline.” -Brad Bird


4- Under Promise – Over Deliver

So now you have gotten organized, prioritized your schedule, and are meeting the deadlines.  What more can you do?  The answer is the age-old sales mantra “Under promise, over deliver“.  If you can get your project in your clients hand early do it!!  Your client may have two vendors working on the same project planning to pick the best finished product.  You don’t want them to pick the other vendor just because they got theirs done first – the client could decide on the other creative before you even get your creative seen (I’ve seen this happen). Another advantage is that it can give your client time to make an extra round of revisions that will make them even happier with your artistic genius.  Part of under promise over deliver is knowing your capabilities.  If you truly know you cannot meet a client’s deadline, let them know.  They may be able to extend the deadline, and if they can’t you have been honest and avoided an awkward failure.

5- Build a good support network

Building a good support team deserves a place in any list – in any aspect of business. It is really hard to be successful without the right people!  Not pulling any punches, but the truth is a lot of creative people can be a little flaky.  So when you find creative people who stick to deadlines and do good work, do what you can to cement that relationship.  It is not only important to find people to support what you do, but to find people you can recommend when you are to busy to take a job. Don’t forget as your trying out new musicians, actors, printers, designers, photographers, engineers, editors or whatever team support you need – it is important to back things up with contracts and agreements that specifically layout all deadlines.  A typical film composer agreement, for example, will include delivery days for proofs, revisions and masters.  I understand how hard it can be to delegate your creative vision but as your business grows and your workload gets larger it will be important to have people in place you can trust.

6- Accept deadlines as part of the culture

We love to think that the quality of our creative work, whatever it is, is the only thing that matters.  It may certainly be at the top of the list but good business practices will always give you an edge over the competition.  And unfortunately deadlines are part of the culture. Except it. Embrace the deadlines as a tool.  Deadlines will force you to find more efficient ways to works, to develop best practices, to create artist toolkits, and genuinely make you better at what you do.   When you are doing spec work or if you are just starting to forge a career in a creative industry, set self imposed deadlines even when a deadline isn’t necessary.  Because when the time comes and the deadline looms you want to be prepared to face it head on!

Goals are dreams with deadlines” – Diana Scharf


And don’t forget when you are talking deadline that includes the paperwork, check out my post about doing paperwork here.

(images courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net)