Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 6, 2023

Productivity, Deadlines, and the Creative Soul

by Lisa Norman

woman with head on keyboard with rocks stacked on top of head and shoulders

I recently found myself stressing out over a deadline. People who have worked with me know that my body responds negatively to stress... which is sad, because I thrive on it emotionally. I've heard many of my students and clients talk about the pressure of deadlines as well. Have you ever found yourself in one of these situations?

"I've paid for this class, but I can't do the homework because: (deadline)." And the learning you get from the class is minimal because you’re too busy to concentrate.

"I can't take the time to write that blog post because: (deadline)." And your marketing suffers.

"I don't have time for writing because I need to (insert goal)." And writing productivity suffers.

"I know this probably needs one more edit, but it is good enough and I need to get it out before (deadline)." Yeah, that is one we're gonna regret. Been there. Done that. Today, in fact.

We live in a time when learning and opportunities are all around us. Content is being created at a faster pace than ever before. Our fear of missing out clicks in and we take on more than we should. And as creatives, it is often our creative energies that are lost in today’s dash around the hamster wheel.

The source of the problem

During a recent overwhelm moment, when my body started reacting and telling me I needed to CUT IT OUT right now or I'd be waking up looking at some hospital ceiling, I thought: Who set this deadline?


Who made the deadline too tight?


Who would care if I missed it?


And that's when I realized: it wasn't the stress to complete the project before the deadline that was the problem. It was my own thinking about the deadline.

When a friend is dealing with these moments, I say, "Tell the customer you are revising the due date. Take a day off. Breathe. You'll be faster when you come back to work."

So why is it so hard for me to give myself the same grace?

Technology: Help or Hindrance?

We live in a world of technology. As I've watched productivity-enhancing software blossom and grow, I’ve noticed a frightening trend—at least in myself. I wasn't taking all that extra time that the productivity gave me and using it for creative pursuits. Wasn't reserving it for rest or taking care of my health. No. I was feeding it back into productivity.

I can run one successful business. I have assistants to help. Great! Let's run two businesses! As the second business's success is increasing, so is the workload. And when I have a moment to breathe, I'm looking at how I can increase the marketing reach of those businesses... which will increase the load. Everything works fine until something doesn't.

If my computer hiccups, everything comes to a halt.

And those spinning plates come crashing down.

Letting Go

Someone recently invited me to present for a group that I love. It would have been so much fun! But... it came at a time when I was already on overwhelm. Initially, I said yes. And then a friend asked me how my writing was going.

Writing? Who has time for writing? Oh... wait.

I'd just rearranged many of my priorities so that I could have more time to write. And what had I done with the time? I'd learned new marketing techniques I wanted to experiment with for my publishing business. I'd taken on a new client, adding deadlines on top of existing deadlines.

Something had to give. I had to say no.

The group's representative was disappointed, but I had to say no. Why?

Because I needed to choose to keep space in my life for writing.

Nanowrimo is coming. I have an idea for a novel. But... I'm also looking at more novels than I'm willing to admit to having in the "ugly rough draft" stage. It doesn't make sense to add to that pile. Or does it?

When I step back, this stress is my own. I set the deadlines for both of my businesses. I'm the one who is pushing myself. Who said yes too many times? Me. I'm the one saying, "I can do that in a week" without leaving time for power outages, internet glitches, or even just the need to move my body.

Just because we CAN do something, doesn't mean we SHOULD. (I hate the word should!)

I often don't notice the overwhelm until I find myself thinking, "I'm thirsty, but I can't get up and fill my water glass until I get this one more thing done..."

Is it any wonder my body rebels?

Procrastination and Productivity

Writing is a fascinating profession that balances procrastination and productivity, creating and creative rest. If we don't have enough downtime, our creative tank can go dry and leave us struggling with the dreaded writer's block.

How many writers have you heard talk about creative breakthroughs that occurred when they were doing something completely non-writing related? These usually happen during mundane things like long drives. But in our modern world, we have audiobooks and podcasts to listen to while driving, so our muse has lost the time to speak to us!

Here are a few time management tips, specifically designed for writers:

  • Just-in-time learning is a thing. (https://writersinthestormblog.com/2023/04/how-to-survive-the-singularity-of-rapid-technological-change/) Don't push yourself to learn something before you need it. It may have changed completely before you are ready.
  • Do learn something to make your work faster—example: AI, research tools, etc.—but once you have that skill and you've gained the free time, guard that time as precious writing time.
  • Give yourself joy. Remember to take care of your writer's heart, soul, and body. Take a walk and look at the changing colors of the leaves.
  • Both of my businesses have been declared "no deadline" zones. Not because I want tasks to take forever, but because deadlines steal not only the joy of the projects, but also some of the quality.

How about you? What are your favorite tips for protecting yourself from stress? Please share them with us down in the comments.

* * * * * *

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter or check out her brand new classroom where she teaches social media, organization skills, and marketing for authors!

Top image by SergeyNivens on Depositphotos.

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12 comments on “Productivity, Deadlines, and the Creative Soul”

  1. Oh my goodness, I needed this today. I've said yes to sooo many things lately and I already had more on my plate than I could do. For me, a major stress lately has been a leaky roof staining just finished remodeling & repainting ceilings. Today, I'm relieved because re-roofing is going on. But also me--I am distracted and not getting enough writing done today. I need to concentrate better, I've got to get this chapter done...etc, etc. After reading this blog post, I decided to sit back for a bit and sip some coffee and enjoy the fact that my roof is being re-done and by tomorrow evening I no longer have to worry about the weather. The chapter can wait until my environment is a little less distracting. Thank you, Lisa.

    1. Hugs, Lynette! I had this post hit a little too close to home last week as well. I've had great plans for November... and then I got COVID. Right now my plan for November is survival. Anything beyond that I'm going to count as a win!

      You've worked so hard on that remodel! I'm so sorry to hear about the roof! Isn't that the way these things go, though! Enjoy that rest and peace. You'll be twice as productive once you aren't distracted by dripping and pounding on the roof!

  2. This hits home for me and especially today. I’ve awake since 6am with an upset stomach. The intermittent pain has me sitting on the couch waiting. Waiting for it to stop because I’ve got so many things to do. The thought of missing a day at NaNo is just niggling me. Yet what I really need is a day off. A day to put my feet up and do nothing. I can’t even give myself permission to take a day off when I’ve been neglecting myself for some time. I think your post is the permission I need. Great timing!

    1. Oh, Christina! Hugs. Give yourself that grace. Take care of your body and your soul. Rest, let yourself heal, then dive in on Nano when you feel better.

      I'm feeling this so bad this month. I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago - before I got slammed with COVID and missed the first week of NaNo. I'm questioning my life choices, that's for sure! But I've been doing a lot of thinking, specifically around:

      Why do I love NaNo? What do I most want from it?

      I love the camaraderie, I love the challenge. And I can join in with more joy after this post-COVID migraine lifts. I'm still going to hit my writing goals hard, but not while I can't see straight.

      Probably after my kids stop reacting with fear when they see me and insisting "SIT DOWN BEFORE YOU FALL DOWN." Kids can be such worry warts! (falls over)

  3. I already know I can't. Whatever it is. Chronic illness precludes SO many interesting things, and keeps time from being productive most days.

    I will occasionally try something (podcast, library visit, book club), but it's for the experience, not as a continuing possibility UNLESS the requesting organization meets a lot of jumps, which they probably won't.

    It is what it is, I can't change it, and I don't spend much time berating myself about it or worrying about what I can't do - I don't need to add to the stress of writing, the primary task I WANT to accomplish; that's for those who can and can benefit.

    It is freeing to know where you are on the scale of things, if also endlessly frustrating (because other people who can do them are reaping the benefits, it seems). I try to float somewhere between 'NEVER' and 'Try something once in a while to test your limits.'

    Meanwhile, I write when I can.

    1. Alicia, focusing on what you CAN do and rejoicing in that is huge. Living with chronic illness is not for the weak. I would go so far as to say that all of those folks you see tromping through "doing" things would struggle to "do" one day of your life. We can't compare with others. We can only enjoy what we can do. And I'm betting that as someone who lives in that world where doing is precious, you choose your energy usage wisely, and hopefully gain more joy and satisfaction from the done!

  4. Your post makes me ponder the ease in which we can give others grace and compassion and how hard it is to direct it back to ourselves--even when we know it would be the best thing we could do for ourselves! 🤦🏻‍♀️ 🙋🏻‍♀️And by "we," I'm sure I mean "me."

    I hope Covid has flown the coop for you and that you're feeling much better.

    1. Covid is destroying me, Ami. But I'm getting back to work and feeling better today than I did yesterday. That's a big change from the last few weeks, so I have hope!

      And you're exactly right. It is so hard to give ourselves grace! And we NEED to! I wonder if that is in any way related to how some people don't believe me when I say a think is "okay." They continue to act like there must be a problem. When to me, it is truly okay, FOR THEM... but they distrust me because they know I would not accept the grace for myself. I've been thinking along that circular path quite a bit recently and thinking that being that much more obvious about being kind to myself AND my clients makes a ton of sense!

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