Setting Realistic Deadlines

In the last blog post we discussed how to organize your time from week to week. Now it’s time to work on a macro level by creating a series of deadlines for each section of your article, thesis or dissertation. This list of deadlines should be shared with major advisors who will review your work before submission and any writing partners you may have who can keep you accountable.

Before selecting dates on a calendar based on when you want to be done (which is typically right before the semester deadline for dissertation submissions) take a step back and consider your own writing process first. If you’re a careful writer who takes time when composing but give yourself a deadline based on your program’s calendar, you could be creating a stressful situation in which you haven’t given yourself enough time to meet the deadline you’ve set for yourself. Therefore, it is important to measure how much work you can actually accomplish in a set period of time before making a schedule.

To get a clear idea of how much you can accomplish, complete the following exercise to determine your writing speed and create a series of deadlines to share with your major advisor. Use this worksheet or a dissertation journal to chart out your estimated times.

Exercise: Measuring Writing Speed to Create Long Term Deadlines

Step 1: Determine how many pages you want your chapters to be. Most dissertation chapters are anywhere from 25-50 pages double spaced. I generally suggest students shoot for thirty well written pages. Write down your page goal.

Step 2: Determine how many good pages you write per day. Use one of your writing sessions (or one writing day, if you’ve broken your writing time down over the day) to write at your normal pace without trying to meet any deadlines. At the end of the session, calculate how many solid pages you’ve written and write that number down below your goal for chapter pages. For example, if you write 10 pages and you know ultimately you will edit it down to 7 pages, write down 7.

Step 3: Determine how long it will take you to write a chapter. Now that you have your daily writing speed, divide the number of pages per chapter by your writing speed to determine the number of days it will take you to write a chapter. Then add 5-14 days of cushion to preemptively make-up for outlining days, editing days, hectic days, sick days, mental health days, vacation days and the days when you just don't want to write (Yes! Those days happen a lot. It's better to acknowledge them and plan for it!). Now write down your number of days to chapter completion.

  • Special Tip: Make cushion days work in your favor. If you don’t use those cushion days, you can surprise your committee by submitting your chapters “early!”

Step 4: Determine your chapter submission dates. Now that you know how long it will take to write each chapter, select appropriate dates to submit your edited chapters to your advisor.

Step 5: Submit your submission timeline to your advisor and any writing partners you may have. Also include these deadlines on your phone calendar with reminder alarms that go off at least a week before your deadline.

Once you have clear cut deadlines that are based on what you can actually accomplish instead of forcing yourself to be finished by an arbitrary date, you can move forward in your work with minimal hurry or stress. Please let me know if this approach works for you in the comments below!

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