Sick Days, or Why I Work Ahead of Deadlines

You will never, ever find me working on a project on deadline day. I work as far in advance as reasonably possible. Recently, I was reminded of why.

In the weeks before a Spring business trip, I had been joking with fellow CFCer Brett Tomczak of Type Orange about how clients develop a sixth sense about my upcoming absence. April is usually a slower month, but somehow they all managed to intuit my travel plans and throw lots of projects my way. But that’s not a problem, right? After all, I cleared my schedule for the last week of March – Crunch Week. I was going to work like a maniac before my April 3 departure to send out drafts and clear my plate before the trip.

The Friday before Crunch Week, my 4-year-old son was sent home from school with a fever. This kid never gets sick, so I figured that this fever would run its course before the weekend ended.

And then the fever got higher. And stuck around.

By Sunday afternoon, it was clear that there was going to be no preschool on Monday. I could have waited to start the projects, but instead I left the kiddo with my husband and headed out to the coffee shop for four hours of work. I figured that it was a good idea to get a head start on my Giant Mountain of To-Do Items. I mean, of course he’d be back to school by Tuesday, but it never hurts to make a little headway.

Monday morning was fever-free. Yay! Everything was going according to plan.

On Monday afternoon, my husband came home early and I took the opportunity to once again escape to the coffee shop, squeezing in another four hours of work. Certainly I wouldn’t need those hours, but it never hurts to work ahead, right?

And then the fever came back with a vengeance on Monday night. Panic once again set in on many different levels.

On Tuesday morning I found myself sitting in radiology, waiting to be called back for the chest x-ray that would ultimately diagnose my son’s pneumonia. And I’m embarrassed to say that as I worried about his health, I also worried about my workload.


But we continued to work the adjusted schedule. My husband would either come home a few hours early or go to work a few hours late while I made my local Peet’s my office. It wasn’t ideal and it sure wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

I learned that the adrenaline rush that comes from worry, stress, sleeplessness and caffeine could power some amazingly efficient work. Check marks began appearing on the Giant Mountain of To-Do Items. I was slowly but surely chipping away at the mountain.

And after the antibiotics kicked in, after the first good night’s sleep in five days, and after the adrenaline-fueled panic wore off, I realized something surprising: I’d nearly reached the end of my to-do list. I’d made it through Crunch Week and lived to tell the tale. And because I worked ahead when I could, none of my clients was the wiser.

Do you compulsively work ahead of schedule, or are you deadline driven?

4 thoughts on “Sick Days, or Why I Work Ahead of Deadlines

  1. Brett Tomczak

    Thanks for the mention, Alisa. We couldn’t be more opposite… I thrive on deadlines. Even if I work ahead, my best ideas almost always come at the eleventh hour. There’s something magical in those last few hours of opportunity before sharing concepts with my clients.

  2. Alisa Bonsignore

    You know that I’d have a heart attack working like you do! But you do great work, so from a client perspective I guess that’s all that matters. I, on the other hand, would be so tied up in knots about the upcoming deadline that I wouldn’t be able to get anything done anyway.

  3. Dan Bulleit

    Most people don’t have the luxury of working ahead as they are waiting on input from others which usually arrives later than sooner. Pain motivates more often than pleasure, and the pain of the possibility of missing a deadline grows stronger as it approaches and seems to create momentum from everyone closer to the end than the beginning. Consider yourself fortunate if you have all the information you need for that much control to complete projects early. Human nature seems bent on it not happening normally.

  4. Alisa Bonsignore

    I should clarify that I rarely have all of the information that I need. I’m usually given less than 25% of the information that I have in hand by the final revision; I use industry and competitor analysis to figure out about 25% more. My goal as a writer is to use that first draft to establish the structure and tone of the project (web copy, white paper, datasheet, etc.) and highlight the glaring gaps in the information provided. I think that most clients don’t really know what it is that they really need until they see it on paper.

    In fact, a client just contacted me yesterday to redo a project that we worked on six months ago. “In hindsight, we didn’t have any idea what we wanted,” he told me. “Now that we’ve actually thought about it, we know that we want to achieve X, Y, Z objectives and differentiate ourselves from a competitor in two key ways. Let’s open a PO and get this done right.”