I’ve been missing in action from social media and my professional blog for a couple of weeks. I took on a large personal project that was always going to be difficult to accommodate, but in the end I just had to accept that I wasn’t going to achieve everything I had committed to if I didn’t prioritise. My regular clients did not suffer at all, but I had to suspend some of my popular PPH Hourlies and pass a couple of interesting new projects to editing colleagues.
A friend and I had agreed to help prepare and cook a Christmas meal to raise funds for a charity we both support. As you may know from my personal blog, vegetarian and vegan cooking is one of my principal leisure time activities, so I was in charge of the ‘fussy eaters’! Initially, we agreed to cook for 40 people, but as time went by and the demand for tickets increased, the numbers grew as did the complexity of the menu. We made very detailed plans and prepared as much as possible in advance, however, as the deadline approached I knew that I’d have to take a couple of full days off just to cook: mince pies, canapés, four litres of red cabbage… the freezer was groaning. Fortunately, we had contingency time built in to our plan, so when my friend messaged me the morning before the event to say that fresh cranberries had not arrived in the vegetable order I was able to put a quick request for sightings out on social media and then head off to the nearest shop where they’d been located. As they say, everything turns out right in the end.
Time management tips
Time management is a skill I’ve practised throughout my business career and I always plan carefully to be sure of meeting deadlines. It’s an issue that many people struggle with. I often receive emails from potential clients asking whether I can proofread their 10,000 word dissertation the same day, as they have a submission deadline at 9 am the following morning. As some of my fellow editors have pointed out, this just isn’t realistic – I’m not usually sitting around waiting for that essay to pop into my inbox, I have work from regular clients and advance bookings pencilled in days and often weeks in advance. That’s not to say I won’t try to help if it’s at all possible. I can often fit in a short letter, a CV or a personal statement, under 1000 words, within 24 hours. I find these short pieces help to break up the day and provide a change when I’m working on something longer.
If you find yourself up against a looming deadline for submission of your next paper there are a couple of things you can do to meet that target. First, don’t panic. Sit down and make a list of all the things you have to do between now and the deadline, then place them into order of priority. Cross anything unnecessary off the list. I’m assuming that your paper is the top priority, taking precedence over your Granny’s birthday. If you’re planning to get the paper proofread, now is the time to make contact with your proofreader and agree the date you will send the paper and the date the proofreading will be returned to you. The date you send the paper to your proofreader is now your new target date: the date you must complete the writing.
Prioritise or compromise
Next, work out how much time you have. Be realistic here and also allow a bit of leeway for something unexpected to crop up – it always does. Fit in all the other things on your list that you simply have to do, maybe a couple of afternoon shifts at work or a trip to the dentist that’s been booked for months, and don’t forget to shop, eat and sleep, too. Now, see how much time you have left for your writing. Make another list of the steps you need to take to complete your paper: have you finished all your research or do you have more journal articles to read? Have you made a rough outline and simply need to polish up the words and put everything in order, or are you starting from scratch. See how this fits into your timetable. If there are too many tasks and not enough time, then you’ll need to prioritise or possibly compromise. Maybe you can postpone the trip to the dentist, will one of your colleagues swap a shift, or perhaps you’ve actually read as much background as possible for this paper.
Plan for success
Once you’ve followed these steps you have a plan. A successful, timely submission of your paper is now just a question of sticking to your plan, like glue, and completing each step. If you break a large project down into smaller parts it always seems less daunting. Finally, try to build in some contingency time. If you need to submit a paper on Friday, work as if you must have it ready on Thursday. And, once again, book your proofreader early, and if anything unexpected does transpire to scupper your careful plan, communicate – with your proofreader or with your supervisor.
By the way, our charity dinner was a great success, thanks to the careful planning and time management on the day. The guests are already asking about next year, but I think I’ll need a bit rest before then.