Deadlines art by bob ostrom

How to Handle Unrealistic Deadlines.

Deadlines, the nature of the business.

Artists work on deadlines all the time. It’s how we get things done, it’s the nature of our business. Sooner or later though you’re going to run into an impossible deadline. So what’s the best way to handle a job with an unrealistic timeline?

 Managing your time.

The first thing you need to do is gather the facts.

  • How long will the job actually take to complete?
  • What other jobs do you have on your plate that may cause conflicts?
  • Can your other obligations be shuffled around to meet the new deadline?
  • Does the client(s) have any flexibility, if so how much?
  • Is there money in the budget to help expedite the process?

Many artists underestimate the amount of time a project will take. In a perfect world, we would have no obligations, no previous deadlines, and no other projects cluttering our desktop. Problems show up when we have to balance more than one project at the same time. The more projects you have the trickier things get. When a job comes in unexpectedly my advice is to double the amount of time you think it will take to complete. This might seem overly generous but I recommend it for several reasons.

  • First, because there are usually other projects to consider and those projects have deadlines. Deadlines have a tendency to shift. This will give you room to breathe.
  • Second, if you’re like me you have a tendency to get excited about a new prospect. Sometimes it clouds judgment, doubling your deadline allows you to assess the project and be sure you give it the proper amount of time.
  • Third, let’s face it, sometimes life gets messy. Extra time allows for things like corrections, new ideas, redo’s, updates and all the other things art directors love to add to improve the final product.
  • One last quick note on extra time and this one’s super important. It’s always better to ask for more time at the beginning of a project then it is to beg for it at the end. This gives your client a much-needed chance to adjust if necessary.

Ask for more money.

If there’s no flexibility in your deadline then the next best thing is to ask for more money. Having more money will help you in three ways.

  • First, it allows you to be able to hire possible additional help to meet your deadline.
  • Second, it eases the pain of all those extra hours you’re about to put in.
  • Third, it pays you for your time. The time you could have spent working with other clients on other projects.

Run like hell.

So what if there’s no flexibility, what do you do then? You have two choices accept the job and suffer the consequences or just say, no. Sometimes you just have to know when to say, no. Live to fight another day. This can be painful when your finances are shaky and you need work but there is no shame in turning down a project if you’re too busy. Believe me I understand desperation but there’s one very important thing to remember. You are under no obligation to make up for someone else’s poor time management skills. If they are are unwilling to make any concessions to help you, help them, then it’s time to walk away. You are a professional and as a professional you deserve a certain amount of respect. If you’re not getting that respect then respect yourself enough to know when it’s time to turn around and run away from a bad deal. Trust me you’ll be happy you did.

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