A Late Post On Deadlines, Amusingly Enough

Currently still under a big cloud at the moment but I’m still teaching at Singapore on the weekend so I’m typing this at the airport. All of my careful plans to have items in the queue have been undermined by having a long enough protracted spell of illness (to be precise, I’m working at about half speed due to migraine or migraine-level painkillers). I have very good parts of the day where I teach and carry out all of the face-to-face things I need to do, but it drains me terribly and leaves me with no ‘extra’ time and it was the extra time I was using to do this. I’m confident that I will teach well over this weekend, I wouldn’t be going otherwise, but it will be a blur in the hotel room outside of those teaching hours.

This brings me back to the subject of deadlines. I’ve now been talking about my time banking and elastic time management ideas to a lot of people and I’ve got quite polished in my responses to the same set of questions. Let me distill them for you, as they have relevance to where I am at the moment:

  1. Not all deadlines can be made flexible.

    I completely agree. We have to grant degrees, finalise resource allocations and so on. Banking time is about teaching time management and the deadline is the obvious focal point, but some deadlines cannot be missed. This leads me to…

  2. We have deadlines in industry that are fixed! Immutable! Miss it and you miss out! Why should I grant students flexible deadlines?

    Because not all of your deadlines are immutable, in the same way that not all are flexible. The serious high-level government grants? The once in a lifetime opportunities to sell product X to company YYPL? Yes, they’re fixed. But to meet these fixed deadlines, we move those other deadlines that we can. We shift off other things. We work weekends. We stay up late. We delay reading something. When we learn how to manage our deadlines so that we can make time for those that are both important and immovable, we do so by managing our resources to shift other deadlines around.

    Elastic time management recognises that life is full of management decisions, not mindless compliance. Pretending that some tiny assignment of pre-packaged questions we’ve been using for 10 years is the most important thing in an 18 year old’s life is not really very honest. But we do know that the students will do things if they are important and we provide enough information that they realise this!

I have had to shift a lot of deadlines to make sure that I am ready to teach for this weekend. On top of that I’ve been writing a paper that is due on the 17th of November, as well as working on many other things. How did I manage this? I quickly looked across my existing resources (and remember I’m at half-speed, so I’ve had to schedule half my usual load) and broke things down into: things that had to happen before this teaching trip, and things that could happen after. I then looked at the first list and did some serious re-arrangement. Let’s look at some of these individually.

Blog posts, which are usually prepared 1-2 days in advance, are now written on the day. My commitment to my blog is important. I think it is valuable but, and this is key, no-one else depends upon it. The blog is now allocated after everything else, which is why I had my lunch before writing this. I will still meet my requirement to post every day but it may show up some hours after my usual slot.

I haven’t been sleeping enough, which is one of the reasons that I’m in such a bad way at the moment. All of my deadlines now have to work around me getting into bed by 10pm and not getting out before 6:15am. I cannot lose any more efficiency so I have to commit serious time to rest. I have also built in some sitting around time to make sure that I’m getting some mental relaxation.

I’ve cut down my meeting allocations to 30 minutes, where possible, and combined them where I can. I’ve said ‘no’ to some meetings to allow me time to do the important ones.

I’ve pushed off certain organisational problems by doing a small amount now and then handing them to someone to look after while I’m in Singapore. I’ve sketched out key plans that I need to look at and started discussions that will carry on over the next few days but show progress is being made.

I’ve printed out some key reading for plane trips, hotel sitting and the waiting time in airports.

Finally, I’ve allocated a lot of time to get ready for teaching and I have an entire day of focus, testing and preparation on top of all of the other preparation I’ve done.

What has happened to all of the deadlines in my life? Those that couldn’t be moved, or shouldn’t be moved, have stayed where they are and the rest have all been shifted around, with the active involvement of other participants, to allow me room to do this. That is what happens in the world. Very few people have a world that is all fixed deadline and, if they do, it’s often at the expense of the invisible deadlines in their family space and real life.

I did not learn how to do this by somebody insisting that everything was equally important and that all of their work requirements trumped my life. I am learning to manage my time maturely by thinking about my time as a whole, by thinking about all of my commitments and then working out how to do it all, and to do it well. I think it’s fair to say that I learned nothing about time management from the way that my assignments were given to me but I did learn a great deal from people who talked to me about their processes, how they managed it all and through an acceptance of this as a complex problem that can be dealt with, with practice and thought.


One Comment on “A Late Post On Deadlines, Amusingly Enough”

  1. I think deadlines are flexible in many cases. The question could be. “What are we trying to accomplish with a deadline?” The question is critical as opposed to the answer being one size fits all. You are right. In some cases, far fewer than exist, deadlines exist and need to be followed.


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