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Business Deadlines
Were Made to Be Broken

by Barbara Brabec

Is your happiness and time with loved ones slipping away because you are allowing business deadlines or customer demands to dictate how you live your life?

IN YOUR BUSINESS, have you ever found yourself being pushed by your customers, clients, associates, subscribers, or others to meet a deadline or simply do more than you felt capable of doing under then-existing circumstances?

And upon letting yourself be pushed to your limits or beyond, were you satisfactorily rewarded in the end, either with heartfelt thanks or, more importantly, with money?

Most people in business are likely to say yes to the first question and no to the second. Certainly that has often been my experience. In looking back over my lifetime of self-employment, I see that my life for more than thirty years was just one difficult-to-meet deadline after another. Many deadlines, of course, were necessitated by my professional writing commitments to editors and publishers, but the majority of them were self-imposed—such as getting my newsletter out on schedule, getting this or that mailer or catalog written/designed/printed and into the mail, writing this or that new article or report, etc. I often got by on four or five hours of sleep because that was the only way I could get everything done on time. And for what? Mostly to make other people happy. My publishers, my editors, my subscribers. Because I felt like I had to live up to their expectations of me.

I’ve always loved my work, and after Harry joined me in the business, we both worked long hours to make it succeed, and it provided a good living for us for many years. And all those hard years really paid off when Harry became too ill to work and needed my full-time care. I was never more grateful to be self-employed then, or now. But both Harry and I gave up a lot for the sake of self-employment, and if he were here today, he’d be the first one to tell you that he was not happy every time I felt pressured to put a publisher's or editor's needs—or even one of my own deadlines—ahead of his needs as my husband and best friend. To say the least, we missed a lot of vacations along the way.

What Are You Giving Up Now?

I’ll bet some of you are thinking that you’re giving up a lot now, too, for the sake of pleasing others. Do you sometimes find yourself slipping out of bed in the middle of the night to work on a job or order for a customer or client because you couldn't find any other time to do this work? Is your health going down the tubes because you're not getting enough sleep? Is your happiness and time with your loved ones slipping away because you are allowing business deadlines or the demands of customers or clients to dictate how you are living your life?

In my books, I've written at length on the topic of how life tends to throw one monkey wrench after another into the lives of home business owners, so I won’t belabor that point here. Suffice it to say that the first thing every new home business owner learns is that it doesn't take much to throw the best production schedule into a tizzy. The smallest problem in our personal, family, or home life might cost us a day's work; the most serious ones—an accident, major illness, family complications, a move, death, divorce, etc.—could cost us weeks, even months. Additionally, if we happen to have a multi-faceted business that is deadline-oriented, certain jobs are generally assigned certain time periods for completion. But if one job takes longer than expected, it affects other jobs down the line, and sometimes one of them might be more important than the one started earlier. Pretty soon the whole "production line" is totally gummed up.

Brabec's Law About Deadlines

Brabec's Law is that all home-business deadlines fall (1) before some important holiday you were hoping to have off; (2) the week before you planned to leave on vacation; or (3) the day before company is arriving for the weekend. If you're lucky enough to miss any of the above, you're likely to be delayed by an unanticipated medical emergency, a home maintenance crisis, or a family situation that requires your immediate attention.

The story behind the two editions of my Crafts Business Answer Book offers a perfect example. When I signed the contract to deliver the first edition of this book by a certain date, I figured I had given myself plenty of time. What I hadn’t counted on was that my husband would have a heart attack in the interim and that I would lose more than three months’ writing time because of his bypass surgery and all the time and help he needed from me during his long recovery. I also didn’t count on the fact that, during this same period, our area would experience a "storm of the century" and subsequent rains would cause our basement to flood not once but four times before we could identify and fix the problem.

Ironically—and even I had a hard time believing this—four years later when I signed the contract to deliver the second edition of this book by a certain date, I had no idea that Harry was going to be hospitalized a week later, and would die six weeks after that. For three months afterwards, as I grieved his loss and tried to get my life back in balance, I simply couldn’t work, so I had to ask for an extension of the deadline I had been given.

Once again, I learned that, no matter how far away a deadline date might be at the time it was set, nor how hard I worked to do what needed to be done in the interim, something always came up to delay me. My life has changed dramatically since my husband died and I am no longer living my life on a deadline, but in looking back, I can see that for more than thirty years there never seemed to be a single instance when I did not find myself wishing for just one more hour, day, week, or month to finish some particular task by the stipulated deadline date.

We all need deadlines to spur us onward, but sometimes it's impossible to meet them. When this happens, we must ask for (or give ourselves) an extension of time. If you should ever find yourself unable to meet a deadline, just do the best you can and lower your stress by forgiving yourself. Sometimes the only way to get it all done without going to pieces it to get it done late.

Other Practical Tips

Do what you must do, not only for survival and growth, but for your personal well-being. In the end, you are the one in charge of maintaining both your business and your personal well being. Weak-willed individuals may let others push them beyond their limits only to collapse in the end, with everyone losing in the bargain. To truly succeed in your own business, then, you must learn to balance the needs of those you are serving with the needs of yourself and your family.

Stop thinking that you can please everyone all the time. Pleasing SOME of the people MOST of the time is about the best any of us can hope for.

Strive to do the best you can under the circumstances, and try to maintain a philosophical attitude about those who demand more of you than you can give. (Any customer or client who can’t accept a reasonable reason for what’s preventing you from meeting your deadline or other commitment to him or her probably isn’t worth trying to keep.)

Don’t stress yourself needlessly by trying to be superman or superwoman. And if you need a reminder of what stress can do to your blood pressure and overall health, read my article, Stress: What It Does to You and what You Can Do About It. It contains tips and links to other articles on what you can do to control your stress level.

READER RESPONSE to this message:

“Wow, could I relate to your message in this newsletter (as I'm sure others will!) I've always said that it's a good thing I really love what I do, because I sure have sacrificed a lot for it. However, being a home based business makes a huge difference too. My business has changed significantly in the past few years as I've given up the free lance work and am now maintaining ownership of my work--a good thing, but now I'm living with my self imposed deadlines (as you know, they can be even worse!) However, as I've aged I have learned that you can only deal with one day at a time, and I'm not so hard on myself anymore when I don't quite keep up with my self imposed deadlines!” - Joan in Ohio


“I don't generally respond to newsletters, but I just had to take a moment to tell you that your article ‘Deadlines Were Made to be Broken’ is one of the most important articles I've ever read. I can honestly say I've personally broken all the rules in my home-based web design business. I succumbed to client pressure to meet impossible deadlines, got stuck in a need-to-please mode, worked on 4-5 hours/night sleep seven days a week and consistently put impossible work deadlines and client priorities above my own. Somehow I just learned to live with the insanity, as if that were some kind of normal. The result was more clients than I could handle, a serious health crisis and eternal regrets that I worked far too often when I should have been spending downtime with my dying mother.

“I'm now starting my business back at square one, learning to manage a more sensible work load, taking better care of my health and addressing client "crisis" and deadlines a bit less maniacally—it's not brain surgery, after all—but I was still feeling pangs of regret over all the time wasted chasing deadlines and unreasonable client demands. Somehow, reading your article made me feel better. Reading how you've lived through some of the same angst but learned to course correct and survive has given me hope. I already admired your work, now I admire you a bit more for your courage and generosity in sharing your personal experience.” ~ Carrie in Oregon
 

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