The word deadline has its roots in the American Civil War. Camp Sumter (also known as Andersonville Prison) was the largest and most infamous military prison of the war. The prison pen was surrounded by a 15-ft-high log fence with sentries stationed at 90-ft intervals. Inside the stockade, about 20 ft from the wall, was the “dead-line,” which prisoners were forbidden to cross. It was marked by a post-and-rail fence, and the guards had orders to shoot anyone who tried to cross it, or even reach over it.
At CEP, we live by deadlines. Failing to meet our deadline for uploading the files to the printer would have adverse consequences. We would lose our spot in line, so to speak, and the issue would get printed whenever the presses could accommodate it. During busy times of the year, that could delay your receipt of the issue by several days or even a week or more.
That’s why the ultimate requirement in the CEP editors’ job descriptions is “Respect for deadlines is paramount.” Organizational and time-management skills are as important as reading, reasoning, writing, and editing skills.
To ensure that we won’t miss the printer’s deadline, we have numerous interim deadlines — for the edited article, redrawn figures, author changes, draft layout, author sign-off, final layout, and others. Each of us also imposes personal deadlines, which for me range from the short-term (today’s to-do list) to the mid-term (next year’s editorial calendar) to the long-term (plan for retirement). Add to those the deadlines for projects not related to publishing the next issue, and you can see why we have become adept at juggling and prioritizing. Here are some lessons we’ve learned that might help you meet your deadlines.
• Be clear on the deadline and expectations. If you are not given a deadline, ask for one. If you know you will have trouble meeting the deadline, discuss that with the deadline setter and try to negotiate a different deadline and/or different expectations. If your work needs to be reviewed by other people or if you require input from others, be sure to account for that when you …
• Plan how you will complete the project before the deadline. Break the task down into smaller segments and set interim deadlines for those. Pad your interim deadlines with contingencies to allow for the unexpected. Don’t procrastinate. (My June 2015 editorial offered suggestions for dealing with procrastination.)
• Remind yourself of the deadline. Keep a calendar with the deadline highlighted in plain view. Each morning, count the number of days remaining until the due date and write that on the calendar and at the top of your daily to-do list. Set up a system of alerts on your smartphone or electronic calendar.
• Understand the importance of deadlines. Realize that there are consequences if you don’t meet your deadline. Other people may have deadlines that are based on your work; if you miss your deadline, it could have a domino effect and cause others to miss their deadlines (or become overly stressed in meeting them). Consistently meeting deadlines can increase your value to your team and your employer.
• Finally, show appreciation when others meet the deadlines you give them.
And, in case you’re wondering: No, we don’t shoot authors who miss their deadlines.
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