That wooshing sound

31 Aug

“I love deadlines. I like the wooshing sound they make as they go by.” –Douglas Adams

Grant writers live and die by deadlines. This makes us edgy and anxious creatures. We make workplans with timelines, we know exactly how long it will take to make 10 copies of a 50-page grant, we pace and fret while the copy machines whirs and spits out page after precious page not nearly fast enough.

So why is it that I often feel that the people around me lack a certain sense of urgency?

I walk a fine line with my neurosis regarding deadlines. I try to convey a sense of immediacy while remaining calm and keeping people focused. I consider this a sort of “value-added” service, keeping the machine churning as the minutes tick by. Plus, freaking out is a waste of time and it’s unprofessional.

But I have to wonder. Doesn’t it mean anything to anyone that it’s 1:30, we haven’t started copying the grant and it’s due across town at 4?

This made me ponder the nature of deadlines and how different people view them. While I have lived under this particular Sword of Damacles for 20 years now, most people just don’t often encounter hard deadlines. I was talking with a friend tonight, and she reminded me that for most people, work-oriented deadlines are a suggestion, a ballpark date for when their supervisor would like for something to be completed. And that there often isn’t a consequence for not complying. It’s hard for normal folk to imagine dire consequences from missing a deadline by days or even minutes. They can’t see the difference between mailing the grant by the deadline and the funder actually receiving the grant by the deadline. In my world, there is a big difference between “postmarked by” and “received by.”

For grant writers, missing a deadline is the end of the world. It’s the ugliest feeling when you frantically hit the “submit” button for an online proposal and find that the website shut down one minute ago. You have no recourse. That moment is gone forever, and nothing can make your grant be on time–which means nothing can make your grant be considered.

So I have to wonder–is my calm demeanor actually hindering the process? How do I convery urgency without wasting time by being frantic? What am I doing wrong?

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