All freelance writers have at one time or another come under the deadline crunch. It’s after three o’clock in the morning, and you’re still hammering away at the computer keyboard, trying to finish up a project for a client before dawn. If you don’t complete it, you won’t get paid, and then how will the rent be covered this month?
Writing is a freelance writer’s livelihood, and the only way you make money is if you write for someone with a checkbook. Often, freelance writing means working under deadlines – some reasonable, others not. But your writing will suffer if you’re working just to keep your eyes open while your eyes scan back and forth across the computer screen, so how do you beat exhaustion when under deadline?
Think About Your Workload When Scheduling Clients
As a preventative measure, think about your other projects when you’re contacted about a new one. If you know you’ll have to burn the midnight oil to accomplish everything on your plate, don’t be afraid to tell clients that their project will have to wait. You’re only human, which must of your clients will understand, so don’t allow yourself to get overloaded. See my article on How to Say No to Clients.
Beat Exhaustion When Under Deadline: Work in Spurts
Sometimes, the exhaustion that sets in under deadline isn’t a product of working too much, but working for increasingly long periods of time. Staring at a computer screen for six hours straight isn’t good for your eyes or your back, so take thirty-minute breaks every couple of hours. Get a cup of coffee, take a walk or just veg in front of the TV for a while to clear your mind and refocus your eyes. And when you’re on break, don’t think about the looming deadline.
Beat Exhaustion When Under Deadline: Switch Out Projects
Let’s say that you have a deadline for two projects that are due in two days. Sounds feasible, doesn’t it? The trick to beating exhaustion when under two deadlines is to work on them interchangeably. Set a timer – you can even set up an alert on your computer – and only work on one project for an hour or two. Then, when the timer goes off, switch immediately and focus on the other project. This will give your mind a change of pace and will make working seem less strenuous.
Beat Exhaustion When Under Deadline: Brainstorm Elsewhere
If your project requires a little bit of brainstorming, outlining or prewriting, do it away from your computer. Do you have a comfortable chair somewhere in your home? Or maybe even a porch swing outside? Carry a clipboard and several sheets of paper away from your desk and do your brainstorming in a new setting – a change of scenery can be therapeutic when under deadline.
Beat Exhaustion When Under Deadline: Stay in Constant Contact
One of the best ways to beat exhaustion and maybe even earn yourself a reprieve is to stay in constant contact with your client. Every day (or even several times a day), e-mail or call your client with an update. Let him or her know the status of your work and be open about any problems. Even if you aren’t comfortable asking for an extension, your client might offer one when he or she sees that you’re working hard but under a time crunch.
Beat Exhaustion When Under Deadline: Remember to Eat
Even if you have sixteen projects due in seven days, you need to take time to eat something. When your body is hungry and working hard, exhaustion will set in much faster. If you don’t have time to sit down and eat a big meal with the family, that’s okay. Just take those thirty-minute breaks we talked about earlier and eat a healthy snack, preferably one that’s high in carbs. This will keep your energy up.
Don’t Crumple Under the Pressure
As a final word, no project is worth sacrificing your health and your sanity. If a project is eating up too much of your time and is keeping you from sleeping, eating and seeing your family, it’s time to do something about it. Contact your client and let him or her know that the previously prescribed deadline just isn’t realistic. Work something out so that you can finish the project but still maintain your sanity.