A humorous anecdote goes that a project team once finished a Government project on time only to find out that no one from the Government was ready to accept the finished product because the Civil Service had assumed based on wealth of experience that the project will not be finished on time. The Story may or may not be true but it serves as a useful reminder of a tendency among many people to underestimate the amount of work required to get a task done. This is especially true at the beginning of a complex task when you may only have a vague idea of the requirements.
When you break down a project into smaller tasks, it often becomes clear a lot more needs to be done than you had originally thought. A student might underestimate the amount of time they will need to carry out research before they can write their assignment. Thinking it will take only a day, they leave starting their assignment until two days to the deadline only to discover the research will take at least 3 days. Under those circumstances, they panic, spend two sleepless days and if they are lucky manage to turn in a half decent assignment. Or they apply for a deadline extension and pray their request gets approved.
This situation is known to every teacher. It has happened so often that there is now a term for the default behaviour of most students to procrastinate on assignments. It’s called Student Syndrome.
Work expands to fill the time allotted.Parkinson’s Law
What is more worrying is that even when people get a deadline extension, they still tend to slack off. Apparently, if the first reasonable deadline was not enough, a second one does not fix it. The student who gets an additional one week to finish their assignment might waste another four days before they continue the work they started.
A lot of people view deadlines the wrong way. The idea of having a deadline is to provide you with a planning horizon. This means if you have a deadline that’s two weeks away, you should view the two weeks as the time you have to plan and execute a task. I have worked with people who started work on a task only on the due date. Hopefully, you are not one of those people.
A few weeks ago, my assignment was to write a 4,500-word research essay. Searching for academic sources is not something I enjoy doing and as such have a tendency to drag my feet on. As the assignment would have to be heavily referenced, I opted to start working on mine two weeks before the deadline. I also made a resolution to Reference as I write. It took me 12 days to finish. Longer than others perhaps but I am proud to say I used the pressure of the deadline to make a plan and produced consistent daily output.