If you are reading this article, you are probably googling for the solution to that impossible deadline that is keeping you awake at night. The good news is that you will probably manage to deliver on time: we all know that deadlines are very important and we do our best to meet them without compromising the quality of our work. But since working overtime daily and drinking 8 coffees a day is no way to live, here are some tips that can help you better manage your deadlines from now on:
First, never commit to a deadline you know you can’t meet. Even if it’s a most desirable client, planning to go without sleep for a week is unrealistic and you know it. Impossible deadlines usually start because they are poorly set: it is common to be overly optimistic about how long a task will take in the short term. How do you solve this? Always track the time it takes you to do a project. Count every minute, and that way you will have a time reference database to consult for each new project, thus refining your ability to estimate how long a task will actually take.
Second, eliminate from your schedule everything that is not a priority. Not just that outing with friends: you may need to pause another project that is not as urgent. But be careful! Don’t neglect it too much, or you’ll be faced with a new tight deadline later on. Third, evaluate if you will need help. Sometimes the simplest solution is to bring in a colleague who can give you a hand.
Then, divide the project into small tasks and prepare a timeline of what you will accomplish each day to make it on time. Be sure to eliminate distractions: put your phone on airplane mode/ And if you are working on the computer, turn off notifications or use an anti-distraction app like Freedom to help you concentrate.
The good news is you are not the only one in this conundrum. Want to know how other creatives have managed their impossible deadlines? Read on!
Tips by Andra Popovici
Andra Popovici is an independent illustrator working for over 10 years with clients from all over the world on ambitious projects.
Her work covers many fields, from commissions for international brands and companies, advertising to game artwork and GUI.
Phew, I still remember my most difficult deadline very clearly, it was excruciating, haha. It happened about 2 years ago, I was hired to create some illustrations for an advertising campaign for a Yogurt Manufacturing company in the US. The deadlines seemed manageable when we first agreed on the delivery terms, but along the way, things got a bit crowded and they needed to have an illustration ready sooner because they wanted to launch the ad in a magazine before an important holiday. So, I ended up with a deadline of 3 days to complete and fully render a medium complexity illustration. Just to give you an idea, it usually takes me around 6 days to comfortably complete an illustration similar to that one and on top of that, I am usually juggling other projects, emails, or multiple urgent tasks that require my attention throughout my active time working on a project.
The agency that hired me was super stressed as well, so I said “F… it, let’s do this!” and agreed to help them deliver on time. The client was very important to them. I disconnected from everything non-essential and just kept my email open to communicate with the agency. I spent 3 very intense days, my best buddies were the multiple coffees and energy drinks throughout the day. I slept about 3 hours per night, my eyes were hurting, my wrist was aching and I was so tired and stressed. The agency was emailing me every hour to check the status and the progress. I was sending constant works in progress to make sure we are on the right track and avoid possible delays because of revisions. Of course, these constant updates were interrupting my flow and made things even more difficult for me.
I finally delivered at around 3 AM my time ( I was in Europe and the client in New York City). I didn’t think I could make it honestly. And it turned out so good, the agency was so super super happy because the client was ecstatic about the result. They posted on their social media how we managed to complete it in such a short time. Everyone was super stressed, but I am so happy it turned out great eventually.
Yulong Lli is a Shanghai-based freelance illustrator. He studied Visual Communication in the UK as a funded exchange program student and received his MFA from the China Academy of Art in 2020. His illustration style ranged from the cultural blending of eastern and western in Shanghai, such as Vintage illustration poster, Modernism arts, and graphic design.
In the mid of last year, lululemon commissioned me to create a key visual for the 2020 Chinese new year. The final work was harder than I expected to finish, but their deadline is minimal for the next printing test. And the way of handling it is very straightforward, refusing the other cooperations at that time and overwork. Fortunately, the payment is reasonable, and the final works are awesome!
Most of the time, I will send a list of timelines for my client at the beginning of the project, so if nothing happens occasionally, I rarely have to catch up on a challenging deadline.
She feels inspired to work with design-focused organizations to create editorial art, website graphics, posters, portraits, app visuals, covers and characters — any kind of illustrations. She has created illustrations for Forbes, Volkswagen, Tatler, Interscope Records, Entertainment Weekly, Skolkovo, A1, Salle Privée, magazines, and bands.
Before I became an illustrator, I worked as a designer for an advertising agency for a long time, so I learned how to calculate time and realized that taking on unrealistic deadlines was not an option for me. When I am under a lot of stress, this negatively affects the quality of my artwork. But artists are different, I know that impossible deadlines motivate someone, they perceive them as a challenge.
However, I do have a story of a very tight deadline: I took on a portrait series project, for each of which I was given a day of work, which was terribly unrealistic (as a rule, my realistic technique requires about 15-21 hours of work per portrait). But the job paid very well, and I took it. Miracles do not happen here, I had to draw day and night. The project lasted a week and a half, I finished it very exhausted. I am a perfectionist, and if I agree to work, it is unacceptable for me to miss the deadlines, so there was no option to stop. Now I understand that this rhythm of work is not suitable for everyone. It is important for each of the artists to learn how to evaluate their strengths and understand whether a busy work schedule without days off and sleep is suitable for them.
Rong Pham is an illustrator with over 6 years of experience in publishing and advertising, also pursuing a degree in Fine Arts, majoring in Son-mai (a traditional Vietnamese method of art-making). As a fine artist, and illustrator, he is well-versed in analogue, digital, and mixed media paintings.
His client list includes Scholastic Asia, Uniqlo, Honda, Coca-Cola, and Poodle Doodle Press, among others.
I am thinking of a personal project named Newly tiny things. It was a group project with Vinh Nguyen (we both wrote and illustrated), which prepared for an upcoming competition and the deadline was really getting close, only about 3 weeks. We have to come up with a story, a storyboard, and the first 6 illustrations. Not to mention I was also studying at college at that time. So the deadline seemed really crazy and it was not easy to finish it on time.
I studied at college from 9 to 5 and then I went home to work on the story and illustrate it in the evening. I remembered there was one day, I had to finish schoolwork in a rush and I asked my teacher if I could leave classes for the next 2 weeks. She asked why and I said there was a book project that I loved very much and it would be regrettable if I didn’t finish it in time to send it to the competition. She accepted and let me stay at home to do the project.
It was our first personal project so we wanted to put a lot of effort into it. It took 2-3 days to actually finish one illustration! Because of the lack of time, I started to paint the picture in my mind first and then the storyboard just followed it along the way. In the end, I’m kind of surprised it worked and we managed to finish the project just in time.
I recently had the honor to create an illustration for “The Wall Street Journal” to celebrate their favorite 2021 books. The turnaround was a week, but it was tons of fun! Since the client was super flexible and encouraging, everything ran smoothly.
I’m a very organized person and usually, I have no trouble with deadlines. But have to say, that probably my most challenging deadlines were while working on editorial pieces, the turnaround is quite quick so I ended up working over weekends and evenings multiple times. So in case you are facing a short deadline, I would definitely recommend getting an agreement upfront and fair payment for your work. Over time I also became more efficient with my time and developed an effective workflow.
Germán Reina Carmona is a 2D artist from Lanzarote, Spain. He works as a freelance concept artist, developing characters and environments for creative agencies, studios and game builders such as Roll7 (UK), SunnyBoy Entertainment (US), West Studio (US), Brown Bag Films (UK) and Zombot Studio (TW).
And how to make it in a tight deadline? Focus on the big picture and don’t experiment. Focus on what it’s really important to finish, and nothing else!
Tips by Alberto Miranda
Alberto Miranda is a Multidisciplinary Visual Designer and Illustrator from Madrid, Spain. He works as a freelancer, focusing mainly on editorial illustration. His impressive client list includes The New York Times, The Guardian UK/US, The Telegraph, Medium, El País, Líbero, and G2, among others.
Well, working in editorial illustrations is kind of an endless “difficult deadline”. Newspapers are always in a rush because when we think about news we think about immediacy. I’m currently working twice a week for The New York Times illustrating one of their opinion newsletters.
So you can imagine, many topics and many different deadlines. That it’s a bit crazy but I love to work with them and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve always been quite good at working under pressure.
Probably the best advice I can give to manage a short deadline is this one: you have to know your client and you have to know their needs. For example, NYT is a huge structure and one of the things they appreciate the most is to give them solutions instead of problems. When they send me a new draft, I don’t ask which insight is the most important one. What I do instead, is to give them a wide range of sketches to let them make the choice. This is a way to speed up the process.
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Feli Arrieta is a book editor and content creator from Buenos Aires. Tirelessly curious, she is passionate about traveling, living new experiences and learning different disciplines, to be shared through her writings.