Deadlines: Friend or Foe?

After three decades working in the public sector, I am no stranger to deadlines.

Frankly, I don’t have a problem with them. If a colleague, a client or an executive needs quick information to enable them to take action, I am more than happy to make that happen.

I don’t know who hit the fast forward button in late 2012, but it seems that around that time deliverables seemed to increase in quantity and deadlines seemed to get progressively shorter.

I tried to adapt as best as I could and along the way, I noticed a contrast in how I was able to take some deadlines in stride while others had hair-raising, stress-provoking, anxiety-inducing effects.

For example, preparing briefing notes and status updates didn’t scare me. If I was actively involved in a file, describing its background, evolution and next steps seemed to come pretty naturally. To me, those were low-stress, easy deadlines to meet.

For the most part, solving client problems was also a straightforward process for me, a lot like solving math problems in school. I was pretty comfortable with those deadlines as well.

But surprisingly, it was the written assignments that were more of a wild card.

If a request was for something short, concise and to the point, I could usually pull that together in good time, no problem there.

If a request was for something more strategic, more innovative or more impactful (or all of the above) then to me, a proportional amount of time should have been allocated, without a side order of interruptions to break my concentration. That wasn’t always the case.

I was more than happy to take on more challenging writing assignments, as I knew they kept my skills and writing reflexes sharp. But the reality is that I can’t complete a request of that magnitude in one rushed draft. I am humble enough to admit that I may be a good writer but I’m not that good!

I know myself well enough to know that my “eureka” moments will often hit me when I least expect them, and more often than not, when I am away from my desk and thinking about something else. For reasons that defy explanation, those moments sometimes happen as I am about to drift off to sleep or sometimes even in the shower.

I discovered that I am a disciplined writer, who needs to chip away at big requests a little each day, until the deadline. Through that process, it allows ideas to ferment over time like a fine wine, allowing time for “eureka” moments and multiple editing sessions to ensure a professional finish.

I was lucky that most managers trusted in my process and I was able to negotiate the time necessary to complete the requests to everyone’s satisfaction. There was a due date, but one that gave me enough time to produce what I considered to be my best work while still meeting corporate objectives.

But it was the executives that wanted instant, short-notice and last-minute brilliance that often had me perplexed. (Funny… I didn’t notice “Miracle worker” in my job description.)

I can laugh about it now, but when tall requests repeatedly began with the exasperating introduction, “Sorry for the last minute notice but…”, I often wondered if the originators of the requests were procrastinators who liked the pressure of deadlines and expected that we all work that way.

I understand that this is indeed a motivator for some, but under pressure-cooker conditions, it’s not my best work. To have an executive assistant at my cubicle, tapping their toe, asking if it’s ready yet, at 15 minute intervals, will not make the finished product come faster, nor will it guarantee quality… at least not for me.

As I embark upon my second career as a writer, I appreciate that big life lesson and the confidence that comes with understanding how my mind and my creative process work. As a result, I feel that I can articulate a realistic timeline to achieve a desired result, as well as to point out a deadline that might be a deal breaker for my creative process.

Either way, I start large scale projects as soon as they are assigned, not wait until the last moment. That’s just the way my mind works and the way I can keep my stress in check.

However, one situation in which I have made peace with tight deadlines is in the editing process. I enjoy the “time boxing” method.

I like taking a rough draft and setting my timer for 30 minutes. During that time, I do as much finessing as I can. When the alarm rings, it’s time to put it aside. Then, I might take a short break and then do the same with another draft document.

I find that 30 minute editing sessions are just right for staying fresh, to not allow myself to get hung up on a word or an expression, and to put the draft aside when the momentum is slowing down. That way, I am always working from first impressions of what sounds best, even in subsequent 30 minute sessions.

Whether I am working on a blog post, an essay or a scene from a script project, time boxing has found a permanent place within my bag of tricks to keep the thought process moving along.

That being the case, deadlines can indeed be my friend for the editing process. But when it comes to being asked to put my best foot forward on the blank page, unrealistic deadlines can be the villain within my writing process.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The First Snowfall of the Season

When I hear the quote from Greek philosopher Epictetus, “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that matters,” I admit that the words are sometimes a bitter pill to swallow when my frustration is beginning to swirl.

However, over time, I have discovered the wisdom of those words when I have seen the contrast in my own feelings over a recurring situation, and how those feelings can change depending on any number of contextual factors.

The first snowfall of the season is an excellent example.

As a young boy, that first snowfall was consistently met with joy and excitement as it meant a switch in the games we played outside at recess.

Running after snowflakes and catching them on our tongues to see who could catch the biggest was a favourite (clearly, it didn’t take much to amuse us). Piles of snow would become the focal point of a game of “king or queen of the castle”. And of course we would blow off steam with the occasional snowball fight, just for the fun of it. Continue reading

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25 Worries about Hair… When I Had Hair

In my late 30’s when I first noticed my hair thinning, I wasn’t prepared to admit defeat. I chose to chase after the remedies on the market that claimed to restore hair.

The sad reality was that I could not fight with Mother Nature as male pattern baldness ran like sap through one side of the family tree.

It was after I turned 40 that I became more accepting of the situation, although you could say that I didn’t really have much choice. All of the haircuts that I tried seemed to look a little off-balance in one way or another, which drove the Type A part of me a little crazy.

One day, I saw a picture of a young man with a shaved head, whose facial features and head shape looked a lot like mine. The shaved head was a very flattering look for this guy. I would even say that he looked pretty cool, which opened the door for me to gradually cut back my hair and then to try my first clipper cut.

Once I started in the clipper zone and went progressively shorter and shorter, I grew to like it more and more.

To me, this was an extremely freeing experience. With a low-maintenance haircut, I reclaimed so much time in the morning, I was able to sleep more plus I saved money on hair product and trips to the hair stylist.

Now, in retirement, I appreciate it even more, in terms of saving time and energy for more important activities, especially my writing. Continue reading

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Spell It Out!

A close up shot of a computer keyboardOver the span of my career, I took great joy in preparing drafts of memos, briefing notes and all kinds of correspondence for my management team. Naturally, I learned a lot along the way and I was more than happy to pass on to the advice to the newest generation when it was my turn to coach them.

In the early days, one comment that came back a few times was the editing note, “in full first”.

By saying that, my director was suggesting that I should write out an acronym in full the first time it appeared in the document and then to include its acronym version in parentheses. Once that is clarified to the reader, the writer can then feel free to use the acronym in its shortened form throughout the rest of the document.

What sage advice that was! To this day, I really appreciate the time, effort and patience that this busy executive took in tutoring me on the importance of spelling out an acronym.

She explained that an acronym that might be commonly used by my peers and myself might not be evident to someone on another team, someone who isn’t involved in the technical aspects of the work, or someone outside of our organization. Continue reading

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What Am I Gonna Wear?

A few years back, I wrote a blog post called “My Writer’s Uniform” in which I speculated on what I might be wearing in retirement when I would be free from office dress codes and pursuing my life’s purpose in writing. Of course, the pandemic was nowhere on our radar at that time.

In 2020, when we started working from home due to the pandemic, the line between home life and work life quickly blurred. That being the case, I made a point of putting on jeans during working hours. When I was off the clock, I could relax and cozy up in my comfortable sweat pants and sweat shirts. In my mind, this helped with the boundary setting between work and home.

In 2021 when I retired, it came as no surprise that the sweats became the default outfit. After 33 years of getting dressed for work, I appreciated the break from the pressure of putting on the office “armour.” However, when I was making public appearances like in-person appointments or running errands, I was more than happy to build a comfortable outfit around my favourite jeans.

But it was early in 2022, when I knew it was time to put my nose to the grindstone and answer life’s calling in writing that the wardrobe question came up again. With this next phase in life just beginning, I could not imagine spending the next 30, 40 or 50 years in sweat pants. There had to be a happy medium.

As I was waking up one morning, I looked over at the sweat pant and sweat shirt ensemble I had hung on the door handle in preparation for that day. I asked myself, “Does this outfit really make me feel more creative?” Continue reading

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My Grape Jelly Laboratory

a basket of freshly harvested grapesShortly after we settled into our home in the country, my partner and I were beyond surprised to discover grapevines in our garden.

Maybe I am too much of a city boy to know better, but to find out that grapes could successfully grow at all in this northern climate was news to me. To discover them in our own garden was pure serendipity.

Given that it was just a couple of grapevines, we did not develop any grand illusions of a future in winemaking. Just the same, we looked forward to seeing how much they might produce and whether the grapes would be fit for consumption.

The first summer we were here, we were so busy, I don’t even recall seeing the grapes. But it was a drought year, so there is a chance that we barely had any.

It was in the second growing season that conditions were quite good. Not only did our apple tree give us a bumper crop, but the grape harvest filled a 4 litre basket, just enough for a batch of grape jelly. With the help of a recipe I found online, it was time to make jelly magic.

This was not my first time making jelly. Back in the early 2000s, at a time when I was forever searching for creative projects, I found a recipe for red pepper jelly in the TV Guide and thought to myself, “that doesn’t sound too hard.” I bought mason jars and the necessary ingredients and successfully produced a beautiful red jelly, perfect for Christmas gift giving.

With that experience long behind me (maybe too long), my grape jelly journey began. While I am certainly no stranger in the kitchen, the multi-step process seemed more complex than I remembered from my first experience. Continue reading

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The Showdown with Paper Towel Dispensers

Of all the inanimate objects in the universe, there is one item that seems to be my equivalent to Lucy pulling the football before Charlie Brown gets to kick it… it’s paper towel dispensers.

Let’s be clear, I am not referring to any specific brand of paper towel dispensers, or even specific paper towel dispensers in a specific venue. I just mean paper towel dispensers in general.

Am I the only one for whom they don’t seem to work right?

Before I start getting nasty emails from paper towel dispenser companies, let me say up front: it’s not your fault.

It’s the human component using them that seems to have a knack for messing them up… and I’m not talking about myself.

The principle for a mechanical dispenser should be pretty simple. You wash your hands; you gently pull down on the little lever to feed the desired amount of paper through slot; you carefully pull off the towel with the help of the serrated blade; you dry your hands with the towel; you toss the used towel in the receptacle provided.

It’s not rocket science. The devices are pretty intuitive and should be easy to use.

But much like the rules of the road are not always followed to the letter of the law, there are rebels in the bathroom reinventing how to use the dispensers. Continue reading

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Accepting that Poop Happens

My apologies for the vulgarity in the title, but please be forewarned that the word “poop” will come up a few times in this post.

Back when I lived in the city, in a development of townhomes grouped together quite cozily, one of my biggest pet peeves was people who walked their dogs and didn’t clean up after them.

I recall on one occasion opening my window when witnessing an owner letting their dog do its business and not picking it up. I cleared my throat and shouted “EXCUSE ME! Are you going to clean that up?”

They ignored me and just jogged into the distance like it never happened. As much as I would have liked to run out, pick it up and throw it at them, I like to think I’m classier than that.

But it was a next door neighbour with a German shepherd that pushed the boundaries and my buttons. They’d let their dog roam on a very long leash, into my backyard to relieve itself.

The burns in the grass from the urine were bad enough but it was the accumulating fecal matter that was the issue, despite my repeated objections and requests for them to clean up after their dog.

The only time they seemed to respond to my texts was after a snowfall, when the droppings weren’t visible anymore, and say, “Sorry, we’ll try better next time” … How thoughtful of them! Continue reading

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My Favourite New iPhone Game

In picking up a new iPhone 13 mini with heaps of storage space, I have been gradually transferring over my music collection to my new device.

In doing so, I have been able to reconnect with so many musical artists I haven’t been able to listen to in the last few years, given the minuscule amount of storage on my previous phone… My mistake… Lessons learned.

Now, with approximately 13,000 songs on my new phone, there is a fair bit of scrolling going on to get from album to album. But interestingly enough, within my scrolling time, a new game caught my eye.

It’s not the kind of game you need to download from iTunes, it’s just a serendipitous discovery I made along the way.

I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience, but the premise of the game goes like this:

While scrolling through the alphabetically sorted list, I started noticing “neighbours” in the list, like Bon Jovi and Bonnie Raitt.

Note: Yes, I know that Raitt starts with an R, but iPhone/iTunes sorts the list on the first name or word. Continue reading

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The Jerk

On a recent trip to a grocery store, I had a most bizarre encounter with a fellow shopper.

I was pushing my cart down an aisle that was very narrow, given the shelves of potato chips on one side and an island of cases of soft drinks in the middle. Essentially, the aisle was divided into two one-way streets.

If traditional rules of the road prevailed, in theory, I was taking the correct approach. I was traveling on the right side of the aisle while oncoming traffic should have been on the other side of the Island of Coca Cola.

I was near the end of my one-way street when a gentleman (and I use the term loosely) turned the corner and chose to enter the same one-way street I was using… but in the opposite direction.

I watched him as he picked up different bags of chips and quickly put them down without tossing any into his cart. I sensed that something weird was brewing.

Then he paused, not making eye contact with me, still looking in the direction of the shelf. His body language showed that he not actively looking for anything anymore.
Something was up.

Was this a showdown of some sort? Continue reading

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