Why are deadlines so important?

I know I would have finished the paper I’m currently writing if I had a firmer deadline. I know I’ll finish the next one on time that does have a deadline. I’m not a procrastinator, so why do I need deadlines? Why do we all need and hate deadlines?

OK, so maybe I’m a little bit of a procrastinator since I’m writing this and not working on the non-deadline paper so I can get to the deadline one. I put papers I have to review and letters I have to write on my calendar a couple days before the deadline so I do them when I need to. But why can’t I dig into the important work and just get it done?

I suppose I write when it is easy and stop when it gets hard. Nothing unusual about that. I can push through the hard bits, though. But there is still a challenge. It is that nothing ever feels quite good enough. A little bit more polishing will always help. If you pass something on to another reader or a journalIMG_0170 that had no deadline, you are saying that this is perfect. If there is a deadline, you are simply turning in something that is as good as you can make it given the time constraints. It feels easier.

Some of us are more perfectionist than others. Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity. Of course accuracy is essential. But there is a time when you need to simply say what you did in the methods as exactly as you can, figure out what you can of the data, and move on. A deadline helps a lot with this.

So, if you are working on something small, make the deadline today. If it is something larger, make it Friday, or October first. Fake deadlines are not nearly as powerful as real ones. The worst rule of all is that I can’t do x fun thing until I do y important thing, so I’ll do neither and just check Facebook on this brilliantly sunny cool day.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Daily routines, Managing an academic career, Organization of a scientist and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why are deadlines so important?

  1. leekb26 says:

    only scientists know what is DEADLINE! haha 😀

  2. ivanabrito says:

    Dear Dr.Joan, I would like to take the opportunity to say that I am a great fan of your blog. I enjoy a lot reading your posts and I also learn a lot of things through your inspirational and passionate messages. Many thanks for sharing your brilliant thoughts and ideas. You are a great educator! Best wishes, Ivana Brito    

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