Using Deadlines Strategically

Read this article, which reinforces the importance of planning for deadlines.

Deadlines Help Drive Productivity

There is nothing like a looming deadline to spur faculty members to work harder and longer to meet it. In addition to actual deadlines imposed by due dates for submissions or registration, self-imposed deadlines help us spend time and energy in ways that accomplish professional goals.

New faculty members should take the time to determine both real deadlines that have to be met, whether for grant applications, conferences, or print publications, and target deadlines set to accomplish tasks that will ensure a real deadline is met. Accomplished faculty members are masters at calendaring deadlines and sticking to them.


Work Backward from Due Dates

Once real and target deadlines have been set and placed on the calendar, begin filling in sub-goals that will help make progress toward the larger task. If it takes three drafts to get to a final paper, then place deadlines for Drafts One, Two, and Three on the calendar, allowing several weeks to a month for each, or whatever is a reasonable time to complete them. Pad each interim deadline, so that if something urgent comes up there will still be time to make the planned deadline.

If, for example, a grant proposal is due in February, draft one should be complete in October, draft two in November, draft three in December, and all final edits and supporting documents completed in January. Leave time to obtain signatures, finalize budgets, and ask for any letters needed well ahead of the final due date. Plan to have the complete package ready to go by the end of January, so that any last-minute delays do not derail the entire package from being submitted on time.


Plan Conferences for the Academic Year

Many accomplished faculty members use conferences to frame their work for the year. A calendar of research, including preparation, data collection, analysis, and writing up findings is outlined by choosing several conferences to attend and present the research findings, and working backwards from due dates for conference proposals. Once several key conferences have been decided as annual gatherings, a pattern of research activities begins to take on a familiar rhythm.

Adjustments can be made for larger or smaller research projects, or when a change is made about which conferences to attend, but the calendaring process remains the same. If faculty members take the interim deadlines to heart, a substantive research agenda will begin to unfold. As a career progresses, faculty members should think about moving from local and regional conferences to national and international ones, as appropriate for their field of study.


Plan Journal Submissions for the Academic Year

The same strategy works well for print publications. Journals put out calls for papers or articles well ahead of publication dates, some taking months or years for the review and approval process. Often journals set out themes for upcoming issues in order for faculty members to plan ahead for where their work will best fit. Accomplished faculty members use these upcoming dates to plan research projects, locate collaborators, and set out research activity and writing schedules to be ready to submit for the appropriate journal issue.

The most prolific writers always have several pieces in process and work on them regularly to be ready to submit them as deadlines approach. There is always some aspect of writing that can be worked on during time set aside for writing, whether crafting text, finalizing citations, or working on the format. Each journal has specific format guidelines that must be tightly adhered to, and setting documents up properly from the outset saves time as the deadlines loom.


Collaborate with Colleagues

One helpful strategy is to collaborate on a research project since colleagues are counting on your contribution. Work with collaborators to set collective deadlines for each step in the research process, and from there work backwards on personal deadlines that allow plenty of time to meet the ones set by the group. Effective collaborators push one another just when a push is needed, and keep one another on the path to completion. Knowing that a colleague is counting on a completed product is a wonderful incentive to make the extra effort needed to complete the work.


Collaborate with Students

Students have deadlines built into their work, whether for coursework or to complete their degree. As a result, they make wonderful collaborators who have to be done by very hard deadlines in order to finish in time. Whether undergraduates or graduate students, regular meetings to check progress, edit drafts, and plan the next steps effectively moves projects to completion.

Accomplished faculty members work with a number of students at once and effectively mentor them to completion, thereby contributing along several fronts at once. The time invested in student mentoring is well worth the added incentive to finish that inspires faculty members to complete projects on time.


Pacing to Meet Deadlines

Deadlines are very effective at moving research forward in a balanced and methodical way. Accomplished faculty members build an agenda efficiently by continuously working on all aspects of several projects simultaneously. New faculty members can become as efficient themselves by having projects begin in a staggered manner, every few months, so that multiple projects move forward, some in the planning stages, while others are just getting set up, others are in the analysis phase, and still others are being written up.

This careful pacing and constant progress on a research agenda is the hallmark of faculty members who have a successful research agenda.


Source: Robin Marion,
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Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2020, 1:33 PM