Our Unhealthy Obsession with Due Dates

One of the tenets of The Time Diet is that stressing out and worrying wastes our time. Half the stress of getting it all done comes from worrying about getting it all done. This attitude comes from our unhealthy obsession with deadlines and due dates. We are bombarded with deadlines in our lives. Bills are due! Projects are due! Paperwork is due! This is the kind of stuff that keeps us up at night and we’d be far more efficient if we spent that energy developing a plan of attack to actually complete this work. You see, every deadline you write in your calendar has a corresponding date that is much more important: your start date. While deadlines are often set by other people, the more important start date is set by you.

This past week was the first full week of the ASU spring semester. There is no better time to witness the stress of deadlines than this initial week of school (except maybe finals week, which has some pretty intense deadline stress too). You see, this first full week of classes is when all the course syllabi are handed out. As the professors carefully walk the class through their expectations for the semester, the students are frantically flipping through the syllabus looking for words like “20 page paper” or “Final Exam: worth 50% of your grade.” Those deadlines then take their place in the part of students’ brains reserved for stressful things where they will loom for the rest of the semester. When you multiply this process by the number of classes a student is taking, the resulting state of mind is the student version of deadline-stress which I like to call, “syllabus overload.”

Syllabus overload is a perfect example of the dangers of stressing out about deadlines with no regard for start dates. Rather than allowing deadlines to pile up in their brains, students should immediately get out their calendars, write down the deadline and then also write down the date they intent to start that project. Does your syllabus say you have a 15-page paper due half-way through the semester? You’ll want to allow 5 days to write it (3 pages a day as a general rule of thumb) plus a buffer of a few days to allow for unexpected things to come up. I would pick a date in my calendar no later than 10 days before this paper is due and write “start paper.”  Do this for every due date in all of your syllabi. Now, you still have a lot of work to do, but the deadlines don’t have to freak you out. All you have to do is look at your calendar and you’ll see your whole plan of attack all laid out. No more worrying about how in the world all your work will be done. You know when it will all be done. You just planned it!

The importance of start dates applies to more than just students. Anyone who has deadlines in their lives needs to also plan out their start dates. Take taxes for example. April 15th does not often invoke thoughts of happiness because it is ingrained in most people’s heads as the day taxes are due (except of course this year when they are due April 18th.) If you do your own taxes, you’ve likely stressed about this deadline many times. Instead of just writing “taxes due” in your calendar, pick a date that you will begin working on them and write “start taxes.” The simple act of designating a start date will do wonders for your stress level. Looking at a calendar of only deadlines makes us feel powerless. Looking at a calendar of self-created start dates makes us feel in control. The Time Diet is all about being in control. Good-bye deadline-stress!!

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