Playing the Deadline Game

Let’s talk a bit about the Deadline Game. As freelancers, we’ve all played it at some point—and many of us play it regularly.

The Deadline Game is where you effectively gameify deadlines for freelance projects. If someone says that a project is due on Monday, November 3rd 2014, you figure if you turn it in before the developer wakes up on the following Tuesday, you’re technically on time. You don’t ask if this is okay, you just do it because it’s all a part of “the game.”

Or you play the game on hardcore mode, where you figure being a day or two late is okay because you’re probably not going to be the latest person on a project, or you know that the developer isn’t going to immediately start processing all of the turnover. And rather than clear this early on, you send an email on the due date with a short apology and quick explanation as to where you are. Maybe you add in an excuse as to why you’re late.

The difference between playing the Deadline Game and being late is intent and habit. If in your workload you plan to be a little late as a way to deal with your deadlines, you’re playing the game. Here’s the deal: we developers are wise to the game. Many of us have played it in the past, and some play it still because of being overworked.

Don’t think you’re clever for playing the Deadline Game. The “turn in by the time the dev wakes up” is more or less acceptable in our community, but the person who turns over a project truly on-time gets more respect. And the person who notifies the developer sooner about being a couple days late gets more respect… as long as that’s not a regular occurrence.

In the long run, playing the Deadline Game will define you as a freelancer. There are some people in the community for whom if you say “I’m waiting for X person to turn in work,” a common response is “You told them a week before you actually needed it, right?”

I was that person (especially bad when I was unmedicated[1]), and to some folks I still am. Becoming a developer has given me a better appreciation for people who don’t play the Deadline Game, so I try to respect other developers in turn. That’s helped me get more work, get advances on payment, raise my rates, and get a more collaborative treatment when it comes to having my text revised.

Sure, many of us bake in Deadline Game delays into our timelines, but when we arent forced to use up that time waiting for work, we have more time to make the work better, because frequently as developers we can’t play the Deadline Game with our publishers. Their timetables for printing, shipping, and dealing with conventions are far less flexible.

So, yeah, don’t play the Deadline Game. If you’re going to be late, say so when you suspect that it’ll happen—it’s better to declare early and be wrong than to be late and give no or insufficient notice. If you’re turning in “before the developer wakes up,” don’t make a habit of that. That pays off.

– Ryan

[1] And winters in Seattle cause me to backslide into that, because my productivity takes a huge hit.


2 Responses to Playing the Deadline Game

  1. Jim Groves says:

    Hard truths that hit a little close to home, but something I needed to hear. Its a game I want to quit as soon as I can. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jesse says:

    yes yes yes