Dealing With Deadlines

How do you deal with the pressure of an upcoming deadline?

This is definitely a question that has more than one context, but I will answer it with a recent experience.

This last week was quite a challenging week for me. I was able to successfully hit all of my deadlines, with some variation on the definition of success. I had several midterms and project milestones due all in the same week, the status quo for a school on the quarter system, and its safe to say that I was a ball of stress through the duration.

How did I approach the mountain of expiration dates looming over me? I didn’t, I just tightened up physically and emotionally and racked my body with tension. An unhealthy approach to handling responsibility, most would say, but it seems to work for me to an extent.

Day One

Monday. No one likes Mondays and this was no exception. I started off the week with an interesting, but elusive, proof in my Algorithms course, followed by an unfortunately enlightening class period in “Introduction to Software Engineering.” It was an unfortunate period of enlightenment because we were made aware of two deadlines that were due that same week. I spent the rest of the day between class and working late with my group to attempt making those deadlines.

Anxiety was just warming up, doing its pre-workout stretches, before running over my brain.

Day Two

Algorithms kicked off the day once again, where that tricky little proof took the form of this week’s lab assignment. Perfect, another way for me to not grasp the same concept. I pivoted and started studying for my Chemistry III midterm, which I was confident could be handled with a generous dosage of practice problems. My group for Software Eng. met again and we hammered out the rest of our responsibilities for the week’s pair of deadlines.

Anxiety was now running laps around my head, pounding around with leaden shoes. I was feeling it, and my friends could tell. Few are pleasant to be around when they are stressed, but I am downright snappy.

Day Three

The first milestone for Software Eng. was due and we were really happy with our end product. We had put together a great presentation and all spoke clearly and concisely. One task for the week had been completed, but was soon replaced by another; the abstraction of our entire codebase and inspection of all our requirements documents. At this point, I’ve got an algorithm for my lab figured out, but now had to prove it, a non-trivial task. I ended up putting that down and spending the rest of my day until midnight in the library studying for my Algorithms midterm, something that I forgot to mention earlier.

While I was up late, I had company, Anxiety had brought his friend Grouchiness, who let everyone know I had stuff going on. My real friends, the ones I live with, ended up having to deal with Grouchiness, which I am always embarrassed about after the fact. They were troopers, as I dragged them along through my hellish week against their will.

As I’m sure you can tell, I’m slowly devolving into the aforementioned ball of stress.

Day Four

I started the day off with a win for once! After bombarding my professor with questions, I was able to work through the proof of my algorithm. He even said I laid out my argument well (which would be the last nice thing I received from him)! Throughout this week, I’d been chipping away at the pile of practice problems for chemistry whenever I had a chance, feeling more an more confident that I could summit this midterm. I couldn’t neglect my Algorithms midterm, however, so when I had a solid chunk of “free” time and a white board nearby, I would break out the dry erase markers to draw out pseudocode and work through algorithms.

I was determined to evict Anxiety and Grouchiness from my body, but they had really settled in. My friends became vocal about my “guests” and my being began to take a spherical shape more and more.

Day Five

Day of Judgement. The Final Hours. The Moment of Truth. I felt like I had studied all I could possibly study, but my demeanor reflected that of a shaking, yappy chihuahua as my roommate drove me to start the Day to End All Days.

My Algorithms midterm was the first peak to summit. This experience resembled those videos you see of the super-massive icebergs melting and sliding off into the ocean, except I was on the side of it trying to climb up. Yikes. I gathered myself and made my way through the rest of the day with a clenched fist.

I met up with that same roommate to get some last minute studying in for chemistry, during which I was so wound up I couldn’t say a word without snapping at him.

Together, we attempted to climb the mountain of a chemistry exam, but we both ended up getting trapped underneath an avalanche of chemical compounds we couldn’t solve our way out of.

Zero for two on midterms. But I wasn’t done.

I ended up working on my Software Eng. code for a few hours, mainly because as I was finishing my portion, one of my group members decided not to do their abstractions prior to leaving for the weekend. I threw together his portion of the code and submitted. Phew. Done.

I posted the eviction notice for Anxiety and Grouchinesses and waved goodbye as they packed their bags.

Looking Back

As I write this and reflect on the hell of a week I had, I realize I need to make a change in how I approach deadlines and work towards my goals. I doubt this will be an effective coping mechanism in industry, so I should do something about it before I get there.

I got my work done and did the best I could on my exams, and even though it might not have been enough to be happy about, I accomplished it. The road to getting there was tough and put strain on a few others aside from myself, which is why I need to reevaluate.

To answer my own question again,

“How do you deal with the pressure of an upcoming deadline?”

I don’t. I let it overpower me. I now actually believe that I don’t have a process to work myself through when I find myself in a time crunch.

How am I going to fix that?

Thanks to Andrew Dietz for editing

Thanks to my roommates and friends who dealt with my mood.

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