SOS! I’m About to Miss My Deadline

SOS! Posts: Quick tips for getting through creative crisis.

So maybe you landed that commission with that dream client, or you’re finishing work for your first solo gallery show, or something else that you took on as a professional artist. Of course we all want to be ideal professionals and make all our deadlines with time to spare. But suddenly, with a rush of pit-of-the-stomach dread, you realize that there’s no way in hell you’re going to make the deadline you agreed to. Now what do you do? (Spoiler: the answer is not to go hide your head in the sand and hope for the best.)

  • This is Not the Time for Wishful Thinking. We’re all optimists when we set deadlines, right? However, life often gets in the way, and projects take longer than we expect. Always. In life, be an optimist. In setting deadlines, be a pessimist. A good rule of thumb is to expect to get the flu on every job. That way, if you don’t get the flu, you’ll have time to spare. When there’s a deadline already set, then also don’t let wishful thinking trip you up. Start earlier than you think you’ll have to. And most importantly, as the deadline looms, do not assume you will be able to make up time. The clocks do not magically add hours. If you start to feel anxiety about a deadline, chances are there’s a very good reason.
  • Early Warning System. Ok, so you’ve ditched the magical thinking and accepted that you’re probably going to have deadline issues. But the deadline is still a week away! You can pull an all-nighter every night for a week to make the date, right? Maybe, but it would be a great moment to reach out to your art director or client and check in. Fore-warned is fore-armed. Better to send up a warning and turn in the work on time than not give a warning and blow the date.
  • Not All Deadlines are Created Equal. Once you start reaching out with early warnings, you’ll get a feel for how firm that deadline really is. Art directors often pad dates, or can squeeze a little more time out of the schedule if necessary. If the deadline is drop-dead and can’t be massaged, well then you may need to pull that week’s worth of all-nighters. But better to save that for when you really need it.
  • Do Not Disappear. You’re wracked with shame and self-loathing. You are sure you’re about to burn a bridge and the client will never work with you again. Why not ditch and run? Because disappearing mid-job is the #1 worst thing you can do for your career. DO NOT GO AWOL. Literally any other option is better than that. Clients talk, art directors gossip. Any explanation you have to give for blowing a deadline is better than no answer at all. Communicate, and do it before the deadline. Do not let the deadline pass and make the art director or client email you looking for the work.
  • Turn a Fail into a Win. Sure, it’s impressive when an artist never misses a deadline. But we all know life happens sometimes and the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan. If things run into rocky waters and you make sure to communicate, communicate, communicate, then that’s very impressive too. You’re showing your client or art director that they can still count on you when things go wrong, and reliability is money in the bank.

So the moral of the blog post is this: communication is king. Be honest with yourself, be honest with your clients. Apologize, promise to do your best, offer to throw in some extra work or cut your fee if the harm is unavoidable, but above all, keep your client in the loop.

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