At this time of year we have A LOT of deadlines: final papers due, assignments to turn in, and all the Christmastime deadlines of parties, performances, and presents. It’s A LOT of stress. Most of us don’t really like deadlines just for that reason—they stress us out! However, deadlines can be our greatest allies. How? They generate urgency that can be used to supercharge your productivity. It all depends on how you perceive them, and I’m telling you that deadlines can be some of your greatest friends. Just think of how quickly you wrote that last paper that you put off until the day before the deadline. Maybe it was stressful, but you sure got a lot done, right? Here are four ways to use deadlines to our advantage without all the stress.
#1 Turn Class Project Deadlines into Research Deadlines
I’ve emphasized the point several times now that graduate school isn’t about class, it’s about the research. However, if you can align your class goals with your research goals, you can make those final projects count twice! I suggest taking a careful look at your syllabi at the beginning of each semester and see whether you can make the final paper fit one of your research projects that you’re currently working on. Naturally, ethics prohibit reusing something you have written for another class, but there’s no rule against eventually publishing what started out as a class project. This way that annoying class deadline can push you to get a big portion of your research manuscript done! If you are teaching classes, try to incorporate some new material on your topic for a given lecture and then work to prepare for that deadline.
#2 Turn Conference Proposals into Research Deadlines
Conference proposal deadlines can similarly be very helpful to push your research forward. I try to never submit work for a conference proposal that was already mostly completed, it wasted a great deadline. Getting a proposal for a conference ready or a conference presentation ready can really give urgency for your research.
#3 Turn Informal Presentation Opportunities into Research Deadlines
You will likely find that you like the effects that deadlines create for your writing productivity. If so, begin to create more deadlines for yourself. Perhaps your university has a brown bag lunches or area meetings in which people present their research. Volunteer and take advantage of the urgency that preparing for such a presentation will generate. If your university does not offer such opportunities, consider organizing something like this. Another option might be to join a local Toastmasters Club—a public speaking group (http://www.toastmasters.org). You are regularly given speaking opportunities and so you could prepare to speak in front of a group on your research topic. This could both give you added motivation to prepare material on your topic and polish your skills for when you go present your research at a national conference.
#4 Create Your Own Research Deadlines
Finally, it can be helpful to create your own deadlines with goals. However, it’s not enough to just set a goal for when you want to have something done. To give your goal deadline some extra punch, share it with a mentor or coauthors. Also, you may consider seeking out an “accountability partner,” someone to whom you report the progress of your goals on a weekly basis. This is so much more powerful than trying to hold yourself accountable for deadlines as you can easily rationalize in your own mind why you couldn’t make it.
Whether it’s a class project, a formal or informal research presentation, or a goal that you set with an accountability partner, deadlines can energize you and dramatically increase your productivity.
On my website you can access a free download that will help you to apply the principles I discussed in today’s blog post. This exercise will walk you through some steps for choosing great collaborators. From the website, click on "Book Exercise Downloads" and then click on "Chapter 4 Wrap up Exercises."