Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Deadline Enforcement Agency

"I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." --Douglas Adams

When I was in college, I remember telling my friends that I would be the meanest teacher in the world if I were ever to go into education. That's because I would accept no excuses for extending deadlines. Papers would be due when they were due. After all, if I was capable of meeting deadlines, then anyone was.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Back when I was making grand pronouncements about the importance of sticking to a stated deadline, I was at my procratinatingest. I remember once dallying all day long on a paper--when said five page paper was all I had to do that day--to the annoyance of my roommate who actually had classes and shit to do that day.

Yet I was still able to complete said paper and turn it in on time.

These days, I am more disciplined than I have ever been. I set timers to beat while writing articles for my clients. I set timers to keep me from whiling away my kid-free hours on email. I install self-control apps on my computer to keep myself from temptation--something that never would have occurred to my college self.

And yet! I am constantly behind on my deadlines.

I blame the fact that days have been getting shorter. When I was in college, I received the requisite 24 hours per day, with some additional hours crammed in during particularly boring lectures.

These days, I believe I'm only getting about 16 hours each day. (This seems to run counter to the laws of known physics, but motherhood laughs in the face of known physics. If you don't believe me, watch a toddler for a few hours).

I have become the sort of writer I excoriated as a college student--constantly a day late and an article short.

Of course, an inability to meet deadlines never stopped the late Douglas Adams. (And forgive me for a terrible and morbid pun). 

Apparently his publisher once called him to ask after a manuscript that was already several months late. He apologetically reported that it still wasn't quite finished--by a few hundred pages. His publisher told him to finish the page he was on, and that a bicycle messenger would be coming by in an hour to just pick up what he had. (I have to wonder how many more genius writers we have missed out on simply because publishers do not routinely offer such a service).

Though I recognize that I'm nowhere near Douglas Adams' level of procrastination and deadline-missing, I still have a fear that somewhere there is a shadowy organization of deadline enforcement agents who will soon come gunning for me.

When it gets to be 6:30 pm, and it's clear that there is no way the article I promised to get to a client three days before will be completed (or even begun) that day, I imagine a big man named Spike is polishing his anti-procrastination bat.

When I email a client to shamefacedly admit that I am not quite done a piece I promised to have done last month, I wonder if my client has called Spike to set up a perimeter on my house.

And when I jokingly make a reference to a client's deadline enforcement team, I wonder if they find my self-deprecation charming or if they are planning on having Spike rappel into my home and tie me down at my computer.

As much as I fear the Deadline Enforcement Agency and their operatives (all named Spike), I also recognize the importance of having such a force of fear and guilt working on the consciences of writers like myself. Otherwise, we would quickly descend into the chaos of a world without anything turned in on time...or ever.

Oh, the horror! The horror!

Douglas Adams photo courtesy of Michael Hughes

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