What’s Better than the Assignment Deadline? Making Your Own Deadline.

How do you make your own deadlines? Why are your own deadlines important in the first place?

Whoa there! Let’s back track a bit first.

When you have coursework, what is your relationship with the set deadline?

If it’s like most people, you see a date a long way in the future (it’s at least a week, a month, a term away…) and you put the work to the back of your mind.

That date in the future creeps up much quicker than you realise…mostly because you weren’t thinking about it.

And BAM! You’ve got to play catch-up.

Then you have those wonderful (read: terrible) all-nighters to endure.

The easy advice would be to tell you to start working on your projects the moment they’re assigned.

But you may not want to follow the advice to start working on those projects straight away. You may have other commitments at the moment anyway.

The good news is that you can still prepare without the need for a desperate last minute attempt. It’s the happy medium between insta-work and much too late.

Make your own deadlines.

The Muse has helpfully published a piece on “4 Better Ways to Create Deadlines That You’ll Actually Stick To“. It’s worth reading of its own accord if you’ve got time.

And I’ll put my own take on those tips too:

  1. Make Them Urgent

You know you’re going to have to do that work. It won’t disappear if you ignore it. So set a deadline that works better for you. If you’ve got a quieter week next week, use it. Don’t wait for the official deadline when you’ve got another six pieces to submit…

You have to believe in your deadline, otherwise you’ll just ignore it. That’s why it’s easy for the advice to say “Make them urgent” and it’s harder to convince yourself of that.

My take: If you don’t take your own deadline seriously, you’re not taking the work seriously. Nobody is immune from procrastination, but some handle it better than others. If you slip at this hurdle, it’s time to admit that you need to have words with the little procrastination monster in your head.

I’ve got 10 ways to bypass procrastination. But if you want to understand loads more about the topic (and procrastinate even more!), Wait But Why has a great series of posts:

I said a procrastination monster. But yes, you may call it an instant gratification monkey. Each to their own. 😉

  1. Make Them Personal

“…consider whether focusing on the task in its entirety, piece-by-piece, or in relation to the rest of your projects will make you more likely to sit down and work on it.” – https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-better-ways-to-create-deadlines-that-youll-actually-stick-to

How you schedule your work is important.

Maybe it’s the task that feels scary. If so, break it down and work on little bits as you go along.

Maybe it’s the way you feel overwhelmed with juggling many deadlines at once. If so, work to your own deadlines rather than those imposed on you by others (see point 1).

Work out what’s stopping you from getting the work done and take action on that.

When it doesn’t feel personal, it can feel like an uncontrollable blob.

When you make it personal, you shape that blob into something cute and fluffy.

Something like that, anyway…

  1. Make Them Actionable

“If ‘finish report,’ will take all afternoon, ask yourself what you could do in 10-minutes: outline the first portion, design two or three slides, or edit what you’ve written so far?” https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-better-ways-to-create-deadlines-that-youll-actually-stick-to

In other words, get specific. Have quantifiable goals and explicit targets.

You can set a number of personal deadlines. A date for having made an outline, a date for a rough draft, a date for references, a date for editing, and so on.

If you start missing your own deadlines all over the place, that official deadline will feel even scarier. This may be enough to knock you into action, even if it’s mostly down to psychological unrest.

  1. Make Them Meaningful

The advice given is to make your goals known. Find a way to be accountable.

I have mixed feelings on this, although the tip to find meaning definitely stands. Without meaning, you’re nowhere.

But while some people thrive off having accountability buddies and promising the world that you’ll do something (or else!), other people become demotivated.

I recommend that you take Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz, to find out if you prefer to follow outer expectations or inner expectations.

Unless you’re a Rebel, you’ll probably find the best way to make meaning through your deadlines and promises.

And if you’re a Rebel (who resists outer AND inner expectations), Rubin says you may prefer to focus on the reasons why you want to hit that deadline, and even find ways of working that set you apart from what people usually do.

Deadlines can feel icky. Hopefully these tips from The Muse and my take on them will help them feel a bit more manageable from now on.

You may never manage to be deadline-free, but at least you can do it on your own terms now.

Next time, when you’ve finished an essay to your own deadlines, you can sit back and watch as others around you scramble around at the last minute.

But don’t be too harsh. Share this advice with them!