When I Can’t Say No: I Should Know Better by Now

3 min read

I’m finishing this article the day it’s due. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks, but it takes time for ideas to gel, and there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. Thankfully, I’m on a flight which eliminates the distractions of email and the office, wearing noise-canceling headphones, and with my wife who understands how a creative introvert creates best.

That’s one example of how to create content quickly: Always be mindful and thinking about your expertise, eliminate distractions, and know yourself.

But what if you have less time than a two-hour flight?

When the HARO (Help a Reporter Out) email arrives, you scan it—and an inquiry speaks to you.

Your mind races, your heart beats faster, and you think, “I could write a pitch for that.” Deadline is tomorrow and your day’s schedule is full.

After you wrote the book (as I have) ; your publicist pitches an article on your behalf, and you land an article on a major platform. Time to produce is less than one week… and it’s for entrepreneur.com!

Emboldened, you look for opportunities to write guest posts, knowing it will bring added exposure to your business or expertise. Here’s the challenge: the 1,500-word article on writing a marketing plan and the 2,000-word article on marketing automation for nonprofits are due in less than 30 days, on top of your thought leadership content and your daily responsibilities.

Suddenly your strategic content marketing plan has been torpedoed by the Tyranny of the Urgent.

These opportunities make you dependent on OPDs (Other People’s Deadlines), and the allure of content marketing is too great to resist.

Self-Discipline for Creators Who Can’t Say No: Dealing with OPD

Let’s be honest with one another: We say yes to writing invitations and opportunities because it appeals to our vanity. It makes us feel important, relevant, and gives us fodder for the social media machine.

Here’s my reality check: My strengths are as a strategist, advisor, and creative director, not a writer. My Bachelor of Fine Arts degree curriculum should have included more English and writing, but at this point in my career, I’m not going back to college.

Sometimes the words flow effortlessly (during times of margin and solitude); at other times writing is like marathon training runs: grueling and challenging, requiring endurance and commitment to finish.

I could say no, but I can’t. Like many design professionals, I have a perspective on just about everything and am interested in sharing it when given the opportunity. I write to help myself understand what I think.

In fact, much of my writing begins as diagrams, from which I create the written narrative. But I don’t always have time for that luxury.

Here’s how I create meaningful and insightful content when there’s little time:

  • Focus—I imagine the one person who will get the most value from what I’m writing, and I write for her. I try to understand her frustrations and motivations about the topic about which I’m writing. I think about what perspective will give her a new insight into her situation. I find a way to give her a way to apply what I’ve written about to her situation. I may even invite her to share her thoughts and experience with me via email or the comments section. After all, content marketing is about engagement!
  • Repurpose—Unless I’m still researching the subject matter, I’m typically writing about a topic or theme with which I am familiar. If there is no requirement for original content, it’s often possible to combine elements of content I’ve already written in a new piece. You can do this too. Doing so may have the added benefit of revealing a new connection or insight you never understood. At the least, it will get you closer to finishing the content piece on time.
  • Extend—For a recent series of guest posts on leadership topics for Qara, the word count allowed me to take four articles I wrote previously and re-write them for the desired word count. (And gave me new extended content for a new ebook).
  • Dictate—Sometimes it’s easiest and fastest to expound on my thoughts verbally, using my dictation software and Evernote.
  • Ask and answer questions—imagine what questions a third party might ask you about the topic, and respond to the questions. The few extra minutes it takes to think of or collaborate with a colleague on the questions will be made up on time you’ll regain from being able to answer specific questions.
  • Use Grammarly—Before I submit any content for publication (when I’m not working with a professional editor); I paste all the text into Grammarly for a final grammar and spelling check. Doing so makes my writing better, makes me a better writer and helps me present my thinking with greater clarity.

When your next opportunity to get your content in front of a wider audience and you’re under a deadline, pick one of these tips and make it work for you. You’ll be able to create a piece in less time than it takes to fly from Ohio to Florida.

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