Each day during finals week, there seem to be fewer students in the library needing help. However, those who come to the desk are quite desperate. As I type this, two library folks have been tag-teaming a young man who came in about two o’clock. He had already been given one extension on his research paper, which was now due at five today. And he had no sources, no idea how to put sources in the paper, and was clueless about citation as well.
As writers are prone to do, I am going to divide the world into two groups: those who believe in deadlines and those who think they are, at best, suggestions. The distinction is not as clear as you may think. You might imagine the serious deadline people as excellent time managers, writing down due dates in the calendar or putting them in their smart-phones, coming up with a plan, and getting a little work done each week. They then turn in their assignments with ease and grace, feeling quite confident in the result.
This is not the case with most of my deadline-oriented friends. People who adhere to deadlines are just as likely to procrastinate as their deadline-ignoring counterparts. They are just as likely to spend sleepless nights and stressful hours making up for lost time as the deadline comes rushing closer and closer.
The real difference between the two is that they believe, for whatever reason, the deadline is sacred. And while they behave like the lackadaisical grasshopper for most of the project, they turn into industrious ants at the end and things get turned in. They simply can’t imagine themselves as someone who doesn’t meet deadlines. It’s part of their identity to do so.
The deadline-as-suggestion folks, on the other hand, have no such issues. It’s not that they have no identities, but often those identities are tied up in being so super busy that a deadline simply can’t be met. Many times, I’ve listened to excuses about how jobs, cars, children, parents, husbands, wives,etc. prevented them from finishing a project on time. I don’t doubt the sincerity of those excuses; I’m just pointing out, to a deadline believer, those things would usually not make a difference except in the most extreme of circumstances, and then only once.
Of course, in either case, for the deadline believer or deadline-as-suggestion person, there have to be some prerequisite skills to be successful. I have often procrastinated until the last hour before a deadline to turn in a report. But when I sit down to write, I have done all the necessary reading and research. I know the style I’m supposed to use. And I know the basic structure of the assignment. Those things go a long way towards making a deadline.
As sorry as I feel for the young man in the lab next door, I have to believe that there are valuable lessons to be learned: Even extension deadlines come due. Some prep work can make last minute cramming less painful. And the best intentions can’t make up for lack of work. And if he learns from this experience,just maybe he will have a better spring semester.