I’m sure in your career you’ve come across a project that seemed ‘impossible’ to do; either a strict deadline, a project that seemed insurmountable or a setback that you couldn’t sort out (illness or something similar). Well, just recently I had one such case – an author who had a speaking event booked (so couldn’t be changed), a book that wasn’t finished (he had 25,000 words still to write) and a logistical nightmare as he was based overseas, and so was unable to organise any of the delivery to the event. (Not to mention the emergency hospital visit he had, which took up a week of his valuable time.)
The project seemed like a complete nightmare – but he was super keen (I’m avoiding the word desperate here 😉 ) to get it done, and well, ‘could I help?’ I had come highly recommended by a colleague of his, and not ever being one to turn away a challenge, I agreed.
I can’t say I didn’t have serious doubts of getting it finished and delivered, as there was a huge responsibly to produce a high-quality product, under very strict deadlines, but his ‘no fail’ attitude is what inspired me to get on board with his challenge, and here are the lessons learnt whilst we were dealing with a seemingly impossible task.
The first thing we established was how much writing was needed, and given the time frame (realistically) what he could write in a day. We looked at the really critical info (his original idea was an additional 35,000 words, but with the time constrictions; what he could write, and what the editor could turn around in her space of time) we trimmed it down to the essentials.
I got straight onto the phone to the printers to see what their constrictions were, time wise. When was the last date they could receive the files, to allow it to be delivered to the venue on time? (As an aside, we had to skip the proof part of the process – this is not something I would EVER do, but in this case I had to rely on a screen proof only… see willing to compromise tip below)
I phoned the venue and got the specific instructions on how to deliver the books. It was a nightmare scenario, as they had a ‘just in time’ policy – which meant the books had to be delivered within a 15min window… these books were coming from 150 miles away – but that’s a different story. A delegated driver was booked instead. (At some cost, I might add)
Mark knew his deadlines, and he had a ‘no fail’ mentality. He stuck to his schedule, and literally ‘turned off’ his unimportant tasks so he could write. Even when he was admitted to hospital, he continued to write.
His unwavering determination didn’t let any set back get in his way and this is KEY when faced with a challenge that seems impossible. Break it down into its small parts, and make sure they get done. End of.
He kept in touch with me, and had constant feedback. We worked together to make sure he stayed on track, and I was able to give the editor chunks of work at a time, so we kept the project moving forward.
Be willing to compromise
As I have mentioned before, Mark had wanted to write an additional 35,000 words, but I knew this was unrealistic if we were to deliver a really good result. Mark had to compromise (he didn’t like it, but I insisted!) and I had to miss the proof step too, which didn’t sit well with me. But if you’re up against an unmovable deadline, then sometimes you need to compromise in order to complete the task.
I also knew that I had to work overtime to get it done. I’m quite strict with my weekends – but in order to get this project finished, I had to work during mine, and up until 11 on more than one occasion. (I know Mark did too.)
Luckily, working with Mark, who is an expert in his own right, was able to see the bigger picture – and he agreed to my plan. He also took one huge leap of faith in me, to deliver a high-end product. (letting go and trusting in a service provider was key in this project, and I thank Mark for doing that, over managing would have slowed down the process, but he just let me get on with it.)
I had to do the same with the printers. Now I’ve worked with them for a good few years, so I knew they were able to do the job, but giving them fair warning and keeping them in the loop throughout the project really helped.
Communication, communication, communication
With a project like this, communication is key. I was juggling balls left right and centre; Mark, the editor, the printers and the venue. I kept an email log of everything I did, and any phone call I made I backed it up in writing. The venue was particularly tricky – as the event manager never seemed to answer her phone, and then she went away on holiday a week before the event. But with my persistence, it was sorted. (I’m sure she was sick of my voice by the end of it!)
As Mark reminded me in an email, ‘panic creates mistakes’ – and he was right. Panicking and getting stressed doesn’t help. Staying focused and organised keeps a project running smoothly. I found these three things helpful
- Stepping away from the project
- Making lists and prioritising what needs to be done.
- Backing up and checking twice.
1. Stepping away from a really intense project can be the best solution. Worry can be a killer when it comes to a creative project and just removing yourself from the computer can really boost and rejuvenate.
2. Anything I needed to sort out, I wrote down. Then I prioritised. Then I worked through the list, checking everything off as I went. Anything new came up, I wrote it down, on the list. I cc’d everyone into the emails, so everyone knew what was happening.
3. So, there was Mark doing his bit, writing like a demon, my editor was busy, correcting and tweaking, and there I was, creating and designing. All good. BUT I did make sure I backed up my computer every-night. (I’m a bit slack on that front) but the thought of my weekend work – the layout of his book and any of the editor’s changes being lost through a computer glitch would be the ultimate worst case scenario.
In the end, we produced a fantastic result – and Marks testimonial conveys that. It was a fantastic project, even if produced at a break neck speed, but it just goes to show, with the right planning, mindset and team – anything is possible.
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