Looming Deadlines by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

By meggin@meggin.com
Oct 30th, 2013
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Past due stampYou may feel like deadlines are always looming.  It’s not that problematic if you have large open gaps in your calendar and very few items on your to-do list.  But….my guess is that this doesn’t describe you (or most faculty I know!)  So, here are ten tips I’ve used when I have impending deadlines:
  1. On Sundays (because there are fewer interruptions for me), I take a look at the whole week. A good look. I check appointments, presentations, classes I’m teaching, etc.  I make sure that everything is captured so that I truly know what I’m dealing with.
  2. Next, I take a look at what HAS TO BE DONE based on those prior commitments. For example, if I’m flying to Michigan to do a workshop at a university, then I have to have all my materials prepared to be able to conduct the workshop. That is a
    non-negotiable.  Calling to cancel an appointment because I’ll be out of town is a non-negotiable.
  3. I determine when — specifically — during that week I will be able to finish the non-negotiable-these-have-to-be-done tasks with deadlines.  Then, I schedule that in – because otherwise, it’s too likely that something else will just show up in that space.  You schedule your classes, right?  Schedule your deadline-driven work, too.
  4. If the schedule becomes too scary to look at (which freaks me out), then I start to take a good hard look at what can change.  Note: There is always something that can change. It may not be easy or comfortable to change, but it can change.
  5. I make calls, send emails, or have face-to-face conversations about what has to change in order for me to meet my deadline-driven commitments. Sooner rather than later is highly preferable and far more likely to help any of us maintain the relationships that are connected to whatever changes are being requested.
  6. Then I get busy and focus on ONE of these tasks/projects, knowing that there is no time to fritter away because I have deadlines to meet, which are prioritized and require my best attention.  Often, I realize that if I had just focused earlier, I wouldn’t be up against all these deadlines, but…that’s for another week of Top Tens.
  7. If I get just fried on working on one of the tasks or projects and I realize that I’m starting to lose efficiency and quality, then I either take a quick break or go to work on one of the other non-negotiables for this week.  When I am feeling the heaviness of these impending deadlines, I need to keep moving forward, although I may have to switch between and among more than one key project.
  8. When one task, project is complete, I feel the satisfaction and experience the emotion!  Then, I use the momentum to get the next one done.Note:  A couple more suggestions…
  9. When you have multiple non-negotiable tasks, it is OK to work on them in any order.  Most weeks, it’s better to work on most important first, but if you have truly determined what HAS to be done, no matter what, feel free to work on them in any order that fits your energy level.
  10. See if you can learn anything from a highly productive week like this (albeit highly stressful) that you can put into practice next week so that you don’t run into this situation again.  Just a thought 🙂

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