Productivity Tuesday: Missed Deadlines Can be Deadly

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post!
Each(ish) Tuesday, I share some of the ideas and strategies that inform my coaching in UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity*.

Sometimes, I even record a coaching session! (This is not one of those weeks.)


Fucking deadlines.

They are the Pennywise of academia, lurking in the dark, awakening at random intervals to wreak havoc and feed on insecurities.

Don’t deal with them and things get ugly.

I came to academia via journalism, where a deadline was a real thing. A date. A time. Not to be trifled with if you wanted to avoid humiliation and keep your job.

So, I was completely unprepared for the thing my fellow academics refer to as a deadline.

Typical conversation my first year in the academy:

Me: Have time for lunch?

Academic: Sorry, I can’t. I have a deadline on this article I am writing.

Me: When is it due?

Academic: This spring.

Me: Ok but when?

Academic: I am aiming for April.

THAT IS NOT A DEADLINE! April is a month. 30 days.

30 days of wiggle room, evasion, denial, and procrastination (case in point: “Aiming for…”)

A deadline is not that. A deadline is a limit. A deadline has consequences.

In journalism lore, “deadline” came into newspaper vernacular in reference to the sometimes invisible, “do-not-cross” line set up 20 feet inside the walls of a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville, GA. If a captive Union soldier crossed the deadline, he was shot.

In other words, not only is a deadline an ACTUAL constraint with consequences for failure to meet it, but not knowing your deadline increases the likelihood that you will suffer the productivity equivalent of death: Unfinished. Unpublished. Unemployed.

The challenge for academic writers is that they tend to be as capricious with their deadlines as Henry Wirtz (future war criminal who created the deadline) was with his. They randomly pick a date based on some outside idea of when it “should” be finished rather than assessing when it can be finished. Which is not particularly surprising when you think about how little time most academic writers spend learning how long something might take them to do . (Much more common to beat yourself up for not doing it as fast as you are supposed to, right?)*

Because of this particular self-knowledge deficit, setting an effective deadline will take more than a few reassessments along the way, but for now try these baby steps.

Break your project down (as much as you can with what you have) like this:

  • Main Goal: Writing Project, Submission Goal and Date
    • It doesn’t matter if the deadline is for your shitty first draft or your completed draft. Just SET A DEADLINE and decide who is going to get it.
  • ·SubGoal: Manageable chunks (sections)
    • Divide your project into sections and set a deadline for each. As you do this you may immediately realize the above deadline is unattainable. That’s ok.  That’s actually good!  Now you are grasping a viable writing plan! Just adjust to what you think is reasonable.
  • Tasks: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (SMART).
    • Begin to break each section into “SMART” tasks and set a deadline for each. Remember “write my chapter” is not a measurable or realistic goal. “Deal with the transition from Paragraph Three to Paragraph Four” is. Once again, the more specific you get about these tasks and when you can realistically do them, the more likely it is that your previously set deadlines will have to be adjusted.

I’ll talk more about facing a deadline you are destined to miss and how not to run away in shame next week

*You write as fast as you write. Stop with the comparisons and figure out you.

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Productivity Tuesday: Missed Deadlines Can be Deadly — 2 Comments

  1. Yes, academia is definitely one place where a deadline is NOT a deadline in terms of how the rest of the world generally perceives one – well, except for my pre-teen, he simply doesn’t believe in them at all!

    Really loved this line, “You write as fast as you write. Stop with the comparisons and figure out you.” So true and applies to each of us on many levels!

    Love the post, thank you

  2. I hate deadlines!! whenever there’s a deadline on something I stop working of the thing I am interested in, it is a terrible feeling, I am always tempted to go beyond that deadline to feel freed from it. when I meet a deadline for doing something(I rarely do!!), I have the feeling I should have done way much better than what I did. And sue the work I submitted is for sure not worthy of being submitted. I haven’t fount a way to get rid of this feeling.

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