On Deadlines

The following was sent to subscribers on January 26th, 2015

On Deadline

I thought I could do more or less frequent essays without deadlines … like Friday’s deadlines for TGIF. I am finding that writing is too often too random for easy adaptation to a short essay format. So, please, permit me a little rambling to get started again.

Going forward, the big themes of education, economics and ecology won’t go away. Edging toward politics and religion are tempting and should find expressions from time to time. But education seems to rise to a higher place. This may be because education is profoundly important for all of the above.

Questions almost always seem to be good thought starters. There is no shortage of important questions about theology and political philosophy as well as economic justice and deep natural and social ecologies. We almost instinctively try to formulate answers to questions. Bringing a few facts to bear is best, but even jotting down opinions tends to lead constructively toward fact finding and some defensible conclusion.

But I have never been as committed to writing answers as I hope to be to asking questions. In fact I have found that a bit of rambling around questions is a way to get some creative juices flowing. Thoughts don’t always come prepackaged and jotting notes, sentence fragments, lists, or even a little nonsense lacking connections is useful. The beauty of the word processor is that everything captured can be revised, reordered or junked. Pen on paper writing was never that open to free rambling thought. Perhaps that was because with a fountain pen or typewriter, structure had to trump content.

Setting goals (intentionally set by oneself) and deadlines (most likely set by others) is an effective stimulus for action. When a point-in-time for finishing a work of labor, leisure, or art is looming, acting is essential, even for an affirmed procrastinator.

Drop dead dates are indeed a good foundation for progress, we probably can’t really live without them.

As a teacher I harbored reservations about setting deadlines for students all the while knowing that if there were no deadlines for completion of assignments the chances of receiving any student work was diminishingly small. So I set deadlines in the syllabus, rehearsed the deadlines the first day of class and made plenty of periodic reminders. Periodic test dates, lab exercise dates, report due dates, as well as certain other milestones were set in stone by the syllabus. The syllabus was also my work-plan for lecturing, writing tests, and preparing laboratory materials as well as writing the detailed directions for successfully using the materials and equipment in the laboratory.

As would occasionally happen, a student would approach me with a request for extending a deadline. Mostly I found the reasons for the request reasonable and tried to be accommodating by asking; “Well when can you get it done?” The result was an exchange with a new deadline that was mostly met.

For one academic quarter my colleague and I decided to try some open-ended completion dates. The result was chaos generating a fairly huge outcry from students; “tell us when you want this to be done.” Their point was valid. It made good sense that if other classes had hard and fast deadlines, those were the deadlines that would take priority and other open-ended assignments would be pushed back.

One valuable lesson of schooling is learning to meet deadlines.

I always admired the skill of journalist’s to write fast, edit faster and manage to meet their deadline. One journalism instructor admonished his classes that “grammar is power.” So too is spelling, punctuation, and style. When you lack command of the basics, confidence needed for meeting deadlines is a scary proposition and may account for a big chunk of procrastination.

As the old baseball coach yelled at his second baseman; “Don’t think. REACT!” When you have to pause and think about what to do, whether with a baseball or information, thinking slows you down.

Sometimes with questions, information and opinions, it may be better to slow down and think.



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