I’m on deadline this month.
I’m on deadline and the past few days have been spent in repose on the couch with a stomach sickness that kept me half asleep and unable to work.
Well. That’s a lie. I could have forced myself to work. But I would not have been putting forth my best foot. And in a world where I’m creating art with words, I am unwilling to sacrifice quality for any timeline.
But that still leaves me 5 days behind, if I include the day I took off because it was my husband’s last normal day before school started again. And 5 days of writing is somewhere between 18,000 and 25,000 words, depending on my own mental head space and whether or not the words are flowing.
Last year, facing this kind of uphill battle would have completely fried my ability to fix the problem.
Have you ever been there? Something goes wrong, and you’re so overwhelmed with the steps it will take to start over or get caught up that your ability to problem solve short-circuits. This robs you of even more time as you deal with the stress and anxiousness of falling behind, and that sliver of hope that you’d be able to sort things out gets smaller and smaller.
That’s how I used to feel when things went wrong. In almost every job I’ve ever had, my problem solving skills were always on-point until I came up against something with a looming deadline. It’s one of the reasons I’m so organized and plan things so far out in advance.
My thought process used to be that if I tried to schedule things really meticulously, with lots of room for error, deadlines would never feel daunting enough to cut me off at the knees. Or, I guess, the fingers. Or the mind.
But inevitably, something goes wrong. At some point. Maybe not every time. But definitely sometimes. And knowing how to manage it efficiently and with positivity is the swiftest way to get your butt back on course.
So I have many thousands of words to write in a shorter time frame. That’s my dilemma. That’s the uphill battle I face.
If all I can focus on is my fear… my desperate desire to finish on time and how I think I will be negatively impacted if I don’t… then I’ve already failed. Because that mentality – for me, anyways – is enough to lock me in a prison of anxiety that robs me of creative thought.
Here are my suggestions for how to keep your mind focused from shutting down when you’re facing the fear of failure:
- First and foremost, remind yourself that you get to do whatever it is you’re facing. Whether it be cleaning your house, finishing a project for your boss, turning in some homework, or helping your kid get ready for an upcoming presentation. Someone else would love to have the chance to do it. And if you spend your time remembering what you love about the task ahead – enjoying the feeling of a clean house, praise from your boss, a grade you earned, pride for your kid – it will feel less like a chore, less like a task, and more like something you’ve chosen to do.
- Next, break it down and lay out a timeline. A lot of fear is based in irrationality. I’m not saying it doesn’t feel real. As someone who is terrified of flying and heights and googles every ache and pain for fear of finding out I have a deadly disease, I can assure you that I am aware of how very real fear can feel. But spending a few minutes breaking what you need to get done into smaller tasks and laying out a timeline will allow you to acknowledge how much time you have left. This can (possibly) help ease some of the fear build up.
- Also, definitely ask for help. Obviously, not everything can be a shared task. You might have to work on a project at work by yourself. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask your partner to help out more at home during the few weeks you’re working longer hours. How much less stressful would you feel if you didn’t have to get your work done and also handle all of the normal household tasks that you manage? In my case, it’s just me and my husband, and at this stage of writing, he can’t help me. But he can do laundry, cook dinner, and feed the animals. He can run errands for me and schedule his own doctor’s appointments and make sure we’re both moving forward. Because he’s awesome and is always willing to step up so things stay balanced. The people in your life that love you want you to be successful and happy and sane. Ask for help.
- Lastly, take a deep breath and talk through what will happen if you don’t finish on time. It sounds horrible, almost like you’re setting yourself up for failure. But that’s not the case at all. If you think about the fact something won’t get done on time and then also talk through the worst and best case scenario of the outcome, it’s very possible that the debilitating fear that keeps you from moving forward will evaporate. I say this because most of the time, we aren’t facing life-or-death situations. If I don’t get my book done on time, my absolute worst case scenario is that I have to reschedule with my editor and incur a fee that I know I can financially cover. If that pushes back my timeline and I’m concerned about my income, I can run additional ads to try and make up a component of what will be missing. And those are just ideas I’ve come up with off the top of my head in the few minutes I’m taking to write this. Talk it through. You’ll feel better.
I hope this was helpful for you. I know it’s helpful for me as I prepare to sit down and bust out 70,000+ words over the next few weeks. The good news is that I’m lined up for success. I’m sitting down today to get started instead of cowering in fear of failure and wasting even more time and then feeling even worse and being less able to be creative. It’s a vicious cycle and you are the only one who can stop it.
Let me know in the comments below what techniques you use to keep yourself moving forward when you’re nervous about a looming deadline.