Never Miss An Essay Deadline

By Ali
Category: Academic | Date: Thu 02 Oct, 2008
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
– Douglas Adams

I had written a piece for you on how to get an essay extension. But I scrapped that. Wangling an extension doesn’t help you long-term. You need to tackle the problem before it arises, by knowing how to always meet deadlines.

I am probably a teeny bit over anxious about getting work in on time. I averaged two essays a week as an undergrad, and class prep – and I was only ever late handing in an essay once. (I’ll come to that later.)

Here’s my secrets: feel free to use them. It’s pretty easy to get a place in your tutor’s good books just by getting work in on time, every time – and it really doesn’t require a lot of effort from you.

1. Record deadlines somewhere obvious

The first step is to be darn clear what the deadline is, and make sure you’ve got it recorded somewhere that you’ll see it on a regular basis. Wall charts or calendars work well, or if you prefer something a bit more high tech, try using your email calendar, or online software like Remember the Milk.

I am one of those people who thrive on deadlines, nothing brings on inspiration more readily than desperation.
– Harry Shearer

2. Plan ahead

I’ll be writing more on planning and time management over the next few weeks; for now, I’ll just say that if you’ve got three essays all due in week six, it’s worth planning ahead so that you don’t spend weeks four and five watching the entire box set of Friends, only to pull several all-nighters in week six.

Those of you studying joint honours degrees need to be particularly alert to this: tutors have a nasty habit of all setting an assignment at the same time …

When you’re putting your essay deadlines into your diary or calendar, keep an eye out for any weeks that look like being essay hell.

3. Set your own deadline

As with all assignments make sure you don’t leave essays until the last moment. They invariably take longer than you expect.
Student Net: Essay Planning

Whether or not you have an essay crunch week, it’s worth setting yourself a deadline for each assignment that’s at least a couple of days in advance of the real one. Aim to get your essay finished and ready to hand in by then. This is great because:

  • You’ll feel a nice sense of being on top of things and ahead with your work
  • You’ve got a “buffer zone” if something goes wrong (accidentally deleting all your work, printer death, realising you’ve missed a whole aspect to the question…)
  • Having a deadline (even a “fake” one) helps to focus your mind

I can’t emphasise enough how good it feels to work to your own deadline, not someone else’s. Instead of seeming like yet another chore to drag yourself through, the essay becomes something that you want to get done, in a timeframe that you have set.

4. Don’t be a perfectionist

The one drawback to setting an earlier deadline is that you then have a couple of days spare to tweak your essay, rewrite paragraphs, find more examples, and polish it till it shines. Don’t. Resist the temptation.

Unless you’re George Orwell, you’re probably not such an outstanding essayist that it’ll be worth your time doing endless rewrites. It’s definitely a good idea to revise the first rough draft, then check for typos and embarrassing mistakes, but endlessly fiddling with your essay just eats up time that you could be spending doing more useful work, or just enjoying yourself.

Try setting yourself a time limit for working on the essay itself: give yourself a block of a couple of hours, and focus on it till it’s finished. Getting perfectionist about it will only frustrate you – and you might even end up taking out or rewriting bits of the essay that were perfectly good.

5. Don’t forget the final step …

That one essay deadline I’d missed? Well, I’d followed my advice above. I’d got the essay done ahead of time, and printed it out ready to hand in. And then I went off to the theatre…

…and half way through the play, I remembered that the essay was still sitting on my desk. My tutor was not going to find it in her pigeon hole at 7pm. Oops.

This was back in the dark ages (okay, three years ago) and more and more tutors accept essays by email now – a real help! If you do need to print yours and get it to a specific location by a specific time, try sticking a post-it on your bedroom door to remind you, or set an alarm on your phone.

More on essay deadlines

Futher reading:

How about you? Do you get the jitters at the thought of missing a deadline, or is handing work in late perfectly okay? Have you got any hilarious or tragic stories of forgetting to write an essay at all?


4 comments:

  1. Scot

    Hi

    Just a quick note to say that you’re developing a fantastic looking website and the advice really resonates (without that element of “tips for tips sake” you sometimes come across). Thankyou and congratulations.

    Scot

  2. Hi Scot,

    Thanks — glad you’re enjoying the site! We’re very much trying to avoid the “same old same old” tips about student issues, so it’s great to hear that you’re finding the advice useful.

    Feel free to spread the news about Alpha Student to all your friends … 😉

    Best,

    Ali

  3. snoop

    Hi there,

    thanks alot for these tips, But I really need to ask soemthing…

    Do universities really care what time you give the assignments. I have had a hard time, I already delivered one essay 1 day late, and it keeps happening to me. I had to email my teacher that i am having trouble with the essay and really do not want to fail my module…

    Do teachers let you off?

  4. Hey Snoop,

    Yes, universities care! Unless you’ve got a real emergency, you should make every effort to turn in work on time. Think of it like a job: your boss would be pretty unimpressed if you missed a deadline for an important project.

    You might get lucky and be let off once – but you’ll be making a bad name for yourself, and your teachers won’t be giving you such a glowing reference as they do for students who always turn in work on time and with no excuses.

    Good luck with your essays!

    Ali

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