🧠 Brain STREAM: 6️⃣ Deadlines

They are what everyone dreads, but deadlines are a part of life. Are there ways we can see them differently? This week I reflect on what missing two deadlines means to me.

🧠 Brain STREAM: 6️⃣ Deadlines
Working by the clock is so interwoven into our lives, sometimes we forget to release ourselves from it.

It's currently 2.45am as I start writing this week's newsletter; what better time to write than when your brain refuses to switch off? Sometimes, night is when our imagination runs wild.

If only my brain could work to its bedtime sleep deadlines every night. But this little glitch in my normal routine is what has ultimately led to this newsletter topic.

They are the things that keep us up at night; deadlines.

I always like my subjects to arise organically. Often they are led by what I have written about on Medium or Knowledge Ecology this week, but sometimes they are guided by things which go well, or like this month, wrong.

So this led me to talk about deadlines, and perhaps my lack of ability to adhere to them in the recent month. This month, August, I have let two major deadlines pass me by. I didn't miss them on purpose, but it was a 'future-me-will-deal-with-this-and-didn't' kind of affair.

I find deadlines have a sweet spot in delivery likelihood

Whilst some may not agree, I see value in well-proportioned due dates. In a PhD, deadlines are the checkpoints we need to reach, and once we have done so, we refuel, re-orientate and reset ourselves on our way to the next destination.

Otherwise we'd be endlessly running to somewhere so far in the future with no map to get there. (This newsletter was nearly about maps. I'm a great fan of maps.)

I tend to find single deadlines manageable around the 2-4 week mark. I view them as mini-projects, able to be weaved into my energy management, and other life or work-essential tasks. This time frame is a sweet spot in deadline efficacy for me.

But I begin to struggle if a deadline is given at short notice, or if multiple deadlines come at one sitting with multiple forms and several iterations; "sorry we sent you the wrong form" or "just to clarify...". Or if it's so far in the future, it's such a small blip on the horizon, I don't even register it on my radar.

The two deadlines I have missed in the last month are a case in point:

  • One I missed because the email sent was too long and comprehensive, I put it in the read later pile, and well ... I didn't read it later ...
  • The other was sent before so many subsequent emails with so many forms and training dates and email blah blah blah, I couldn't follow what was going on. So as you can imagine, things got buried/missed/ignored/add relevant synonym, and ultimately I missed the deadline (or is that deadlines? 🤷‍♀️)

Ultimately these are a failure of my email inbox and task processing systems, but I felt missing them deserved some wider reflection.

Deadlines ... am I facing actual death?

In truth, I don't really like the word deadline. They are so intertwined with death, it's no wonder we shy away from them like the plague.

If you happened to be alive in the 1860's during the American Civil War, the 'deadline' was the line around prisons, which if stepped over, guaranteed a bullet heading in your direction.

[Sometimes during research you find a gem of a website; this one, in which I read about the word history of the word 'deadline' gave me a little chuckle, though my visit was of course well-intentioned ... 🤭]

I couldn't get to the bottom of when 'deadline' transitioned from being a literal 'dead line' to something slightly less sinister but still equally death-defying. It seems to be somewhere between the mid-1860's and the 1920's... ironically it doesn't exactly come with a deadline... But one thing is for sure, the word itself and its etymology, isn't friendly.

Could we make it more friendly?

Missing a deadline isn't always a bad thing

Whilst my initial feeling of missing not one, but two deadlines this last month, was one of disappointment in myself and horror at my lack of time awareness, a large part of me now is relieved.

I may have missed an opportunity or two, I may have closed a door or two and I have probably disappointed at least two people that matter, BUT, there are deadlines and there are Deadlines:

  • 'deadlines' are the ones which we 'should' do:
    • Will they keep us heading in the right direction?
    • Are they worth the time and effort?
    • Is something else more important right now in this stage of your life?
  • 'Deadlines' are the priority and the ones we 'will' do:
    • They will keep us on course
    • They are worth the time and effort
    • They are the most important thing to us right now

It never feels good missing a deadline which has at least some meaning, but it feels so much better when I reach one I truly respect, value and want to achieve more than any other I 'should' have done.

So what now?

Well firstly I need to improve email processing. Secondly, I need to book a holiday that happens to be the same week a conference is occurring ...

That aside, I wonder what would happen if we view deadlines as 'alivelines'? Or reference points? Or locations of interest on a bigger journey? How would these change our perception of 'deadlines'?

We could submit an abstract by 5pm on August 31st for the 2023 World Ocean Science Conference in Italy (yes, I made that up), or perhaps ...

"Your reference point, should you choose to accept, is 31st of August at 5pm, when 1 week from now we will take you on a voyage of no return. By submitting your 300 word chronicle of death-defying science about the high seas, we will enter you into the prize draw to win a talk, or runners up will receive a poster presentation. Hurry only 20 places available! You will then have an opportunity to attend a conference in a location rich with treasure and culture in an event like no other that has gone before! If not, be warned, ye shall walk the plank and be fed to the sharks of your research team!"

OK, I much prefer the first for clarity and brevity, but the second is how we could weave it into our imagination to ensure we meet the date the organisers have set.

Until next time, on this research journey!