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How to Set Your Own Deadlines: Tips for Success

Jun 30, 2014 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

Meeting deadlines: for some, it’s not a struggle. For  many, however, it can be a challenge—especially for students studying online. An online degree program can be particularly challenging when it comes to staying organized, because much of the time you have more control over your deadlines and work schedule than you would have in a traditional classroom.

If you tend to procrastinate and do everything at the last minute to begin with, you might have a hard time managing your workload as an online student. However, you can get better at dealing with deadlines—it just involves taking up some good habits. Here are a few tips for effectively setting and meeting deadlines.

Break it down

Big tasks can seem overwhelming—and being overwhelmed with the idea of writing a thirty-page paper or taking on a big school project can lead to procrastination. If you have a big assignment coming up, break it down to its composite parts. Set daily or weekly deadlines for smaller tasks, and those will add up and keep you on track.

Tie rewards to completion

If missing smaller deadlines becomes a problem for you, reward yourself every time you complete one. Maybe meeting a single deadline means you can buy yourself a present or do something fun on a study break—make the rewards relatively easy and low-cost, but good enough that you’ll want to work for them.

Don’t freak out if you miss a deadline

With a lot of small tasks, you can get demoralized if you miss one or more of them—and then just give up. Don’t let that happen. If you miss a deadline, it’s no big deal—just pick up where you left off when you have time, and keep moving forward. It doesn’t matter if you stick perfectly to your schedule as long as you get each task done without leaving everything to the last minute.

Get a calendar that works for you

Whether you rely on your SmartPhone for everything or prefer to stick with a paper calendar or planner, get a system that works for you. Put your calendar where you can see it every day or set alarms in your SmartPhone to remind you to get your work done. Google Calendar is a great tool for this—it will sync across all your devices, so you can keep track of where you are no matter which one you’re using.

Give yourself more time than you need

Always pad your deadlines. If you break your big project up into four smaller tasks, give yourself five weeks to get them done—so if something comes up, you have time to spare and it’s not a big problem. You never know when an unexpected family or work emergency could wreak havoc on your study schedule, and you’ll thank yourself for building the extra time in. If you’re working with a group and have multiple deadlines with group accountability, tell your classmates you’ll get your part of the project in with more time than you’ll need.

Setting deadlines—and sticking to them—can be difficult for anyone, but especially for adult and nontraditional students who are juggling numerous demands for their time from work, family, and accredited online degree programs. Still, you can make sure you meet your school project and paper deadlines with some planning ahead. Break down each project into smaller tasks, schedule them periodically, and always give yourself more time than you’ll need to get everything done—and you should be able to stick to your deadlines despite outside demands and pressures.

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