Draw The Line On Deadlines

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

When I meet with writers, “Deadlines” are in the top ten topics of discussion. Who has one, who missed one, who needs one, why we have them this time.  When we have to be done takes up a lot of space in the minds of writers.

I realized this Dominance of the Deadline odd as it’s not directly about writing.

As I talk with my fellow writers, the stress of deadlines comes up all the time. An editor may inflict a deadline, an author may choose one, but most writers worry about them. While wrestling with this worry, I noticed how much fear of deadlines slows writing.

You can’t write well when you’re panicked.

Now, let me voice a blasphemy – Deadlines can be a bad idea for some writers or some projects.

A shocking statement, but let me turn (inevitably) to Agile approaches. Agile teaches us to evaluate the value of things – a project, a task, a tool. You should ask if a deadline you have brings any value – it may not.

A deadline may be very valuable. For example, if you’re trying to meet an ideal release date for a marketing campaign, the deadline matters.  But you may need to give up on other things of lesser value. If one book needs to hit a deadline, set aside that side project or drop that indulgent appendix.

A deadline may be valuable but not critical.  A deadline could be helpful but not vital – meaning maybe you don’t take it as seriously. If you want to get a book done by a given month to start another, well, a slight change won’t matter. As important as a deadline is, maybe quality or free time matter more.

A deadline may be a bad idea.  Hersey? Perhaps, but maybe some of your deadlines do nothing but cause pain. Maybe you drop a deadline on a “for fun” project or acknowledge the unknown. Hey, you can always add a deadline later.

A deadline is a choice, even if your choice is “I’m gonna fail to deliver this book.

I would also add we often use deadlines as substitutes for other things. We use a deadline to force discipline, but maybe a daily writing exercise is better for us. A deadline may help us hit an ideal time for marketing – but perhaps a different advertising campaign is a better idea.

Evaluate the value of your deadlines as a writer – and as a person. I’d suggest you do it soon, but only if that deadline is valuable.

Steven Savage

Fly My Chaos Monkeys, Fly!

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I recently attended a talk by Si Alhir on Agility and Antifragility. I’ve discussed Agile many times, but Antifragility is a concept I deal with less. Antifragility is about being more resilient and adaptive, and can be a trait of a person, group, or organization. Si’s presentation was very relevant to our current lives and led me to some thoughts.

In Si’s concept, a way to become Antifragile is seeking and creating deliberate challenge. By being challenged, a person or institution becomes more resilient. Both you and I have had experiences of pushing ourselves, but within a framework of safety.

Most people I know who are resilient and creative challenge themselves. Being able to push oneself to grow – but not be harmed or overburdened – is a skill. It is also an ill-defined and ill-taught skill to judge by the overstressed people I’ve known.

But there is a helpful metaphor to challenge us (sorry) to see this Antifragility differently.

This idea of “Antifragility via challenge” made me think of the Chaos Monkey of Netflix fame. This software would randomly create problems on their network, allowing them to find flaws and build workarounds. The company had forged a challenge to their complex systems to keep them on their streaming toes.

Giving something a name is effective, so now I can ask the question, “what Chaos Monkeys do I need?” I can also ask you, my reader, the same thing – what challenges would help you?

I invite you to ask if you need a Chaos Monkey or two in your life. Your Disorder Primate may be pushing yourself to write at a different time. Your Mayhem Chimpanzee may be deciding to focus intensely on one subject more than you do. You may find you’ve already unleashed plenty of Havoc Baboons instinctively.

I also invite you to ask if you need any more Bedlam Simians right now. We have a Pandemic that is more of a Chaos Kong than anything else. It may be time to tell your personal Chaos Monkeys to go settle down for a while as they’re not required. The disaster of the moment is keeping us all very busy, thanks.

Every Chaos Monkey has its time.

Steven Savage

How Much Time Did You Lose In The Pandemic?

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As my regular readers are aware, I’ve speculated on how the Pandemic has slowed down my projects and my life.  That got me asking something – is there a way to calculate how much time is lost due to the pandemic?  Of course I had to try.  

Let’s go through my thought processes – it might help you as well.

So first, I decided to calculate time lost in hours.  Because I’m that over-organized and like fine detail.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The calculations below already account for how different needs interfere with each other. In other words, this is real loss due to stress/time/etc. not just available time shifting around.

First, I went to my projects.  I track my projects pretty closely, and I found I’ve functioned at 80-90% efficiency for about a year.  A few quick calculations and I found that my overall projects – from writing to home improvement – got delayed or took extra time.  That was about 5 hours a week, to my surprise – disconnected from everything else.

Secondly, I went to regular chores such as shopping and so on.  No longer could I or my GF randomly run to the store.  We also had to preplan a lot of work, engage in other safety procedures, and so on.  This one was shocking as we found this added another two hours of time a week.

(Sometimes online shopping takes longer as you just can’t grab stuff you realize you need or do it on the way home from work).

Finally, seeing now and then I notice we’d just crash more than usual.  That was intermittent, but usually turned out to be about four hours a week.

Note this also didn’t worry about saving time due to not commuting.  That was not as big as I thought – only about three hours a week.  Car pooling saved me more time than realized because I could just sit and work on stuff.

So all together I realized I’m losing eight hours a week in the pandemic from stress, from things taking longer, from not being able to double-up on chores.  In one year I’ll have lost over 400 hours – this is due to things taking longer, extra unexpected tasks, stress, and schedule changes.

It really does feel like I  need a two month vacation.

So anyway there’s an invite to you – how much time have you lost?

Steven Savage