Gulp – deadlines despite lockdown


Be kind to others and to yourself. Do what you can do. Make small daily goals. Be realistic. Celebrate every victory.  Don’t be hard on yourself. These are extraordinary times. These are the messages that I and a lot of others have been spreading during lockdown.

And I stand by those sentiments. However, seven weeks in and I have some looming deadlines. They aren’t yet of the everything-due-tomorrow kind. But I can’t put them off. I can see that I need to take myself in hand. Regardless of whether I feel up to it or not, I am now at the stage where I have to make more progress than I have been.

I am sure I am not the only one in this position. Most academic staff are still working to meet funding and publishing deadlines, as well as to support students to meet their course timelines, not all of which have been modified. While some of our work can be put off, some can’t.

For this first time since lockdown, this week I summoned up the courage to look at my own deadlines. And made a list. The list is when it gets serious. When you’ve written down what needs to be done and put all-the-things onto a calendar, it really just gets real.

So it turns out that I have some writing to do for my own annual review process. I’m involved in five research funding bids, one of which I’m leading on. These bids are all due before the end of the month. ( Side note, yes I’m not expecting to get all of them, you never do, but innit to winnit. One or two of them would be good.) I have several reviews to do – two book proposals, four research council bids and three journal articles. And a bit of editing work along the way.

But that’s not all. There’s two new papers to be done by the end of May plus a new post-pandemic prologue for the book I thought I’d done with. There’s also a book due at the end of June.

While some of this is begun, and it’s by no means all my own work, there’s still a lot to do. I certainly don’t want to let my colleagues down. I can see that there is now little choice but to be less kind to myself and there’s much more need to summon up whatever willpower I can and just crack on. I can’t afford to be envious of those people who seem to be able to see the current situation as an extended writing retreat. That’s not me, but I somehow need to make things head a little more in that direction.

Some PhDers may well find themselves in a similar situation. While some doc researchers in their final stages have been given extensions by their funder and/or their universities, not everyone has. Some people are still writing towards a fixed end point. And while there has been a relaxation of some timelines other fixed dates, often those concerned with audit, remain. And it appears that some universities and faculties are less inclined than others to be flexible about extensions. I’ve heard a few horror stories recently so I do know that a few institutions are very rule-bound and punitive.

If, like me, you are now in the situation where you have to get more productive or get into trouble, then I/you need to summon up and use all of the tricks that have worked for us in the past.

Meeting the deadlines certainly isn’t stopping exercising and taking breaks in order to get things done. But it might be using timed free writing periods to generate a lot of words. It might be working back from deadlines to set a target for each day, allowing just a little time for slippage and catch up. It might be getting back into an old routine – morning writing for me, but it might be night-time or afternoon time for you. It might mean joining an online writing retreat or Shut Up and Write sessions. It might mean giving yourself rewards when you meet a daily/project/wordcount/time milestone.

But it also might mean having some serious negotiations with other family members. It might be saying no to any new requests from now on. It might be refusing to wait till the last moment, and asking for an extension now.

And there are less attractive options too. Hard decisions. Because of things out of your control. You might have to put some things on hold – the PhD itself, a funding bid. You might need to stop some things altogether and just cross them permanently off the list.

But. But it is still important – whether I/you are putting the pressure on to get things completed, or giving some things up – that we are still kind to ourselves. I think some new things needed to be added to the messages I started with.

Even if I have to stop doing this now, I’ve done really well in extraordinary circumstances. Even if I didn’t do this quite as well as I wanted to, I got it done. Done is miles better than undone. How amazing am I that I managed to get this far in not normal times. If I can meet this deadline now, then just think what I can do when things change for the better. 

I’ll certainly be saying these things to myself in the next few weeks.