Deadlines—An Indispensable Skill
Wake up. Stop procrastinating. Get moving. There’s work to be done!
There’s an expression, “Time and tide wait for no man”. I’ve interpreted this saying to mean that whether you choose to act or not, time will continue regardless of how prepared you are. Personally, I think it’s best to be ready.
Whether you’re in high school or college, you’re likely aware that a big element of your academic career revolves around completing tasks in a strict amount of time. You receive an assignment and you’re given until a certain date to complete it. This is what’s known as a deadline.
Why Deadlines are Important
In both the classroom and in life, you’ll quickly discover that constant progress on tasks is required. There’s really no way of getting around it. If an exam approaches, you’re expected to be prepared for it by the time it arrives. If you’re working, you might have to complete an assignment within a specific time limit. Perhaps there’s even an event you wish to attend. The event won’t be around forever. If you wish to attend it, you’ll have to make time for it before you’ll miss your opportunity. These are all common examples of deadlines. More specifically, these are what I refer to as assigned deadlines, or deadlines outside of your control.
In general, deadlines allow the continual output of productivity and are designed to prevent procrastination. Now, while on the surface, deadlines may not seem too exciting they’re quite beneficial as a whole. Having a deadline can help you become more organized, efficiently get more work done in less time, and help to avoid burnout.
Defining the Self-Given Deadline
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of the deadlines you receive tend to be assigned deadlines that are given to you by others. However, I believe it’s best to establish some control and grant yourself a self-given deadline, or a deadline that you define within the overall time constraints. For example, if you have a project due in four weeks from today, you might want to put more focus on it and give yourself two weeks to complete it. The general reasoning is to allow yourself adequate time to complete the task.
But why would I do this? Why would I give myself less time than I initially had? If it’s due in 4 weeks, wouldn’t the four weeks be plenty?
My answer: By doing it ahead of time, you can get a lot more done. I know, it’s a strange concept but allow me to introduce you to three laws of time management that will help you understand my reasoning.
3 Laws to Remember
Probably the most beneficial to you of the three (you’ll see what I mean in a moment). Parkinson’s Law states that the amount of time a task takes to complete is stretched or shrunken based on the amount of time we give it. Basically, if you give an assignment five days to complete, you’ll probably take your time and finish it in five days. However, if you give it one day to complete, you’ll find a way to get it done in a day.
I think many college and high school students fall prey to this law. Students tend to overestimate how much time they have for an assignment and underestimate how much time it takes to complete the assignment.
Suddenly, the assignment’s due and cramming or procrastination takes the wheel. Keep your deadlines in check! Take control of your time and don’t allow yourself to underestimate how long an assignment will take.
This law is a procrastinator’s worst nightmare. Murphy’s Law states that whenever something bad can occur, it will. Now, to expand on this law, the bad always tends to happen when you’re least prepared for it.
This message demands reiteration: Be prepared and avoid procrastination!
In order to truly create effective deadlines, it’s imperative that you accurately measure your time. However, according to Hofstadter’s Law, the amount of time it takes to complete a task is always longer than expected, even after you’ve taken into account that it’ll take longer than expected.
I agree, but basically, the law forces you to realize that it’s always better to overestimate how long a task will take rather than underestimate. Allow me to grind this into your head: College students tend to underestimate how long a task will take. It’s a common habit that’s repeated consistently.
The key thing to remember with these three laws is that they affect how much time the task will take. Remember how I said to give yourself two weeks for that four-week project? The two weeks is something to strive for in case of accidents and disasters.
Imagine if you stretched out the project to be completed in four weeks (which is what students typically do). At this point, Murphy’s Law might kick in and your data could be lost if you were using a laptop. If you had a group assignment you might discover that certain members might be unavailable which could cost you your grade. Maybe your presentation gets corrupted and everything is lost a day before you need to present. Perhaps you come down with a fever and have absolutely no energy to work. This list can go on forever!
The point is, by taking control of your time, you allow yourself a type of insurance to keep accidents from occurring. Realistically speaking, accidents will occur. That’s just the way life is. But would you rather be able to fix a small disaster with plenty of time to spare or would you prefer the disaster to happen days, maybe even hours, before a task is required?
Also, be realistic. You probably don’t just have one project or task to complete. You’re likely to have several with upcoming deadlines if you’re in high school or college.
Now, with all of the potential disasters that could occur, I want to provide several tips that I think will be extremely useful to setting high-level deadlines and sticking to them.
Get a Planner
If you’ve read the previous articles I’ve written or have ever been on the opposite side of my rambling, you’ll know that I believe everyone should have a planner. I have an entire article dedicated to just this one topic but to summarize, a planner helps keep all of your tasks in order and allows you to visualize the day ahead. This will force you into a position of productivity and help you keep track of what needs to be done.
Work Ahead of Time
I mentioned this earlier but this recommendation is crucial. Don’t fall prey to the 3 laws! Give yourself plenty of time to get a task done just in case something bad happens. Trust me, you can get it done well ahead of time even if you initially think you can’t.
Avoid Hofstadter’s law by giving yourself double the estimated time you think it will take you to get a task done. So, if you think you can complete an assignment in 3 days, give yourself 6 days. As you continue to practice setting deadlines, you’ll get a feel for how long a task will realistically take you.
What to Avoid
Now that I’ve provided some insight and tips on how to set deadlines. Allow me to also give you a few tips that I’ve learned (from personal experience) that can be detrimental in your deadline-crafting pursuits.
You’ve read this several times by now but it’s one of the many traps that high school and college students fall into. Don’t wait until the last minute! By doing so, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Don’t Bunch Deadlines Close Together
This ties into my earlier tip of working ahead of time. As I mentioned, you’re probably not going to have just one assignment due at a time. Don’t try to set your deadlines all on the same day. You’ll only stress yourself out more. Instead, try to prioritize tasks based on importance and due date. Admittedly, this is tricky and will take a bit of practice to really get the hang of. But if you have a test, a paper, and a quiz all on the same date, tackle the paper as soon as possible and then work on the quiz and test. This will require foresight but it’ll save you a hassle in the long run.
Stay Up to Date
The easiest way to fail at setting deadlines is to have no idea when the given deadline is. This will guarantee that you miss an assignment or, at the very least, turn in subpar work. My recommendation: grab your syllabus and create/organize an assignment schedule ahead of time.
Take all of these into consideration while in your classes and even outside of your classes. Setting deadlines for yourself is an inexpensive skill to learn that will always be of benefit. Also, remember to adjust based on your individual needs. If you have any comments or questions feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment below! I’d be happy to answer any questions or help in any way! And, as usual, I appreciate you for taking the time out of your day to read this article. Thank You!