More Alive Than Dead?
Why deadlines – though rarely welcome – are essential for good time management and self-motivation.
Victoria Samanidou |
When checking my emails every day, I get many messages warning me about deadlines; deadlines for an abstract, for the final manuscript, for revisions, for submitting a chapter or even a book, or to register for a conference. I’m sure many of you share this deadline drama! Deadlines may be set for the principal investigator to submit a project proposal, an analytical chemist to evaluate the results of sample analysis, a reviewer to submit their report on a manuscript, a student to submit a project, a postgrad student to submit their thesis...
Usually, the dates are closer than we’d like! And how many times have each of us been frustrated by not being able to meet tight deadlines? Whether working in academia, industry or publishing, there will always be a deadline (or four) to deal with – and we will frequently find ourselves rushing to be on time.
How people respond to that depends on the individual and their way of coping with stress. Some react positively to such a pressure, becoming more productive, whereas others shut down (1). The approach may also depend on the final reward – or penalty – for meeting the deadline (or not).
But are they a necessary evil? In my opinion, deadlines serve not only as a motivator but as a powerful time management tool. If you want to be more productive, a deadline helps to focus your attention. One often needs impressive self-discipline to accomplish something without a defined timeframe. Based on my experience of teamwork, without a defined end point every person will work at his or her own pace, and rarely with highly promising results.
Some people actively demand a deadline before they even consider working on a project. Some years ago, a colleague of mine was invited to contribute a review article for a special issue I was guest editing. They pleaded with me to give a short deadline, so that they would be obliged to work hard on the preparation of the manuscript!
Let’s be honest – meeting deadlines makes us feel that we’ve overcome a challenge. Usually, when I am back from either a short or long break, I face many deadlines waiting to be met. At one time, I would have been anxious about managing it. Now, after years of experience, I am not discouraged – the initial feeling of panic has been replaced by the knowledge that the deadlines will motivate me, help me plan my schedule and make time management easier.
Deadline is a word whose etymology contradicts current use. After all, deadlines can make us more productive, creative, inspired… And so, rather than “killing” us, we need to use them to keep us going and to reinvigorate our motivation.
When thinking of deadlines, I’m often reminded of carbon – which under high pressure turns to diamond. (The process also needs high temperature, but, as any scientist in Mediterranean region will tell you, that’s where the analogy falls down – it’s even tougher to meet deadlines during a heat wave.) So next time you get one of those deadlines in your email inbox, embrace it - and follow the advice of the ancient Greek poet Hesiod in his didactic poem, The Works and Days: “Do not put your work off till tomorrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn.”
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- Io9, “Why do we work better under pressure?” (2014), Available at: bit.ly/2C4xw3P. Last accessed: February 19, 2018.