5 Deadline mistakes I made that you can learn from

27 Nov 2019
By Rob Slade, Writer at Unite Students

Unless you’re the sort of person that gets a buzz from deadlines (I know there’s a few of you out there!), this time of year can be pretty stressful.

Whether you’re tackling your first uni deadlines or slogging away on your dissertation, you’re probably going to see a lot of the library over the next couple of months.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in deadline season. I know I certainly did, but I got through it. Along the way, I made a lot of mistakes, which made my life harder than it needed to be. I don’t want you to take the same path I did, so here are some of the lessons I quickly learned about hitting deadlines.

Don’t be a fool… back up your work

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why it happened. All I know is that it did happen, and it cost me a whole night of sleep.

There I was, in my first year of university, finishing up an essay on embedded journalism. It was the night before deadline and I had done a lot of the work that day.

My friend decided to bring me snacks to help me over the last hurdles and text me when she was outside my flat. And then, disaster. My phone was resting on my laptop and the vibration sent it into a story state of blackness. Suddenly, over a thousand words were lost and I was left only with my introduction.

I hadn’t saved it in a while, didn’t have automatic backup switched on and cursed myself for being so stupid. I was typing furiously into the early hours and, surprise surprise, my work wasn’t exactly of the highest quality.

The lesson: Save your work regularly. Better yet, work in Google Docs, as all of your changes are saved as you go.

Don’t leave it until the last minute

I was training to be a journalist, so I thought it made sense to work right up to the deadline, as that’s what they do in the industry. How wrong I was…

Procrastination was my worst enemy, and I often found myself doing the bulk of my coursework in the days before deadline. This is a bad move, as it gives you know room for error and you don’t even really have time to read through it for mistakes or clarity.

If you leave most of your work until the last minute, it also means that you don’t get the benefit of feedback from your lecturers or coursemates. And if you don’t get this feedback, you can’t really maximise your marks.

The lesson: Get a big chunk of your work done early and make a timeline for getting the rest of it done. Be sure to plot in feedback sessions with your course staff and friends too.

Remember to spell check after each change you make

Before you think I’m just speaking the obvious, hear me out. We all know that it’s a good idea to use a spell checker before submitting our work, but it’s important to do this several times.

I made a promotional poster for my portfolio in third year in Adobe InDesign. Now, this program, like many others, doesn’t have spell check, but after making changes to my initial design and text, I forgot to give it a final look over. The result? One of my final pieces of work at university featured a spelling mistake, and the worst part was that it was in big bold writing.

The lesson: Make sure you spell check your work each and every time you change or add to it. It’s all too easy for a typo to creep in when you’re making your final edits. Plus, remember that some programs don’t actually have spell check, so copy any text out into another program that does.

Don’t get stuck working in the wrong environment

When I was working on coursework I couldn’t resist the temptation to study in the same spot as all my friends. It was great to have company, but it also meant that I was distracted a lot. I also found that when I was working in the communal study spaces I would get caught up people watching. Anything to put off work for a little longer.

To be really productive I had to shut myself away from these distractions in a study room or at my own desk. Even then it was hard to steer clear of some background, so it’s really important to choose the right working environment.

The lesson: Distractions are your enemy. Try working in a few different environments and see which one works best for you. I find it helps to steer clear of rooms with TVs or any particularly crowded areas.

Don’t pay attention to what other people are doing

Everyone works at different speeds and understands some topics better than others. Chances are you’ll have a couple of friends smug in the knowledge that they’ve already finished their work while you’re still slogging away with yours.

When this happens it can dampen your spirits and leave you feeling frustrated or, like me, it can lead to you putting off work so you can socialise when them. But don’t forget, there will also be people who are further behind with their work.

The lesson: Focus on your own work and your own timeline. Don’t let people who have already finished distract you or make you feel bad about your own progress. You’ll get there, just stick at it.

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Rob is a writer at Unite Students.