Beware of false deadlines

One of the wonderful things about academic work, both tenured and independent, is the autonomy. There are not many careers flexible enough to allow kid pick up and drop off without batting an eyelid.

While autonomy is wonderful, it requires training. That means setting deadlines and meeting them. The PhD thesis is that type of training. Writing in general requires that sort of commitment. Do these sound familiar?

  • Write every day
  • Write XXX number of words per day
  • Write XXX chapter by the end of the month
  • Write draft by Easter

Setting and meeting those deadlines is a core part of academic training. It’s one of those quiet skills we don’t realise we are developing through the process of a qualification.

While an excellent skill there is a danger. Setting deadlines can actually increase my stress if not approached thoughtfully.


For example, last week I was feeling really good about having some writing wins. I felt like I could have some down  time. I had one technical edit to do. I planned to complete it slowly this week and work on some online lectures. It was going to be cruisy.

Then two more technical edits and some RA work came through within hours of each other. I completely stressed out. How could I get it all done in a week when I only get 2 hrs a day to work while the kids are on school holidays (if I’m lucky).

I took a deep breath. I re-read the emails. The due dates were not the end of the week. Some I still had a month before due.

I had myself in a state because the deadline I had in my head had more emotional power than the actual deadlines. I hate letting people down so I say I’ll do things quickly. It makes me a popular RA, but it makes me unpopular at home.

I need to remember the priorities. It’s better to work for someone who respects my responsibilities. It’s better for the profession to expect that respect.

These false deadlines can be toxic.

Beware. Take a breath. Remember the priorities. Expect they’ll be respected.


One thought on “Beware of false deadlines

  1. Thanks for this. I’m glad I’m not the only one with this problem. I’m not yet at PhD thesis stage yet, still doing my MA but with three children to fit it around, this is a regular problem I have. Particularly around Christmas which coincides with deadlines for essays, work and, this year, a journal article!


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