Deadlines: what do they really mean?

by Last updated Jun 28, 2020 | Published on May 5, 2020Newsletter0 comments

Yesterday, as I rushed to meet a deadline I had some fleeting thoughts.

Whyyyyy did I think it was a good idea to leave my comfort zone?!

This is sucking the life out of me.

I hate my life.

I can be quite a dramatic diva under when I’m under pressure, huh? I quickly set these thoughts aside, in favour of focus and pulling just. one. more. sentence. out of my brain.

Later, as I triumphantly hit the “send” button on my email, performed a brain dump to erase everything I’ve been writing about for the last 40 hours, and actively avoided thinking about the things I had to do for my business (ahh, the charm and freedom of being a freelancer…), I mused about deadlines.

Why do we have deadlines, what do they mean, and how you can keep your sanity during the race to the finish line?

Ready? Set. Go!


First, what is a deadline?

Have you ever seen a long jump? The one where a runner strides as fast as he or she can and then jumps into a sand box? Yeah, that one. When you see it on TV, there’s an imaginary line to mark the closest point that the runner’s body touched the sand. It’s funny, they always aim with their feet, but it’s their bum that marks the spot and ultimately decides whether they were successful or not.

A deadline is quite similar to a long jump. It’s an imaginary line in the dirt where you throw your project at and pray it lands on the other side. It usually lands on its bum, getting all dirty and not very glorious.

By now, you’ve realised I’m still a bit bitter with my deadline. The truth is, I hate deadlines with a passion. And at the same time, I think they’re ultimately necessary. I set myself deadlines, too.

Why would I do that, you ask? First, because I’m a bit of a crazy person, and second, because I wouldn’t do ANYTHING if I didn’t have a deadline. I’d be lounging in my sofa munching cookies and watching cartoons (because kids).

So, I have deadlines. I force myself to do those hard things. And you know what? It gets easier with time. I get a flurry of dopamine when I meet a deadline —which is the proper nerdy thing to say when you mean you get happy and just a tad smug.

A deadline is your friend if it serves as a gentle nudge (or a strong-willed kick) to get your projects done, but it can be a foe it the sheer anxiety and pressure it causes keeps you from actually working.


Short answer: no.


As one acquaintance timingely commented in a group: “there isn’t a writer alive that hasn’t asked for a deadline extension at some point in their careers.” It’s a relief to know you’re not alone, isn’t it?

This deadline that loomed over my head yesterday was an extension (that I asked for the following day of having been assigned the project, ha!). And honestly, if I hadn’t met it, the world would still be here today, coronavirus and all. But I would have to be working today, and I would much rather be writing to you.

So, tip number one: as soon as you know you won’t be able to meet a deadline, ask for an extension. Most projects won’t stop the world if they don’t get done by X date. At least mines don’t — kudos to you if you are in that position. Nice to have you here, Mr. Gates.

Tip number two: now that you asked for that extension, don’t go lounge in the sofa! Work! While it’s okay to ask for an extension, asking for multiple extensions is a big no-no. It shows unprofessionalism, or at least that you’re not trustworthy.

There are emergencies, of course, and tip number three is: know when to say you won’t be able to complete the project. Once I heard a story of a freelancer that fell from her horse, broke her back, and asked a friend to bring her laptop to the hospital because she had to work! Don’t sacrifice your health for a job.


Finding balance is hard, but having a burnout is worse.

Having one stressful event here and there isn’t going to make you dive into burnout, it will just make you say dramatic things such as a childish ‘I hate my life’.

But if you find yourself spinning in a hamster wheel chasing deadlines and stressed all the time, I found some articles that may help you.

MindTools has an article about how to handle a stressful job, where they give an overview of what stress is and the harm it can do to you, as well as some tips to keep it in check. I like the ‘exercise regularly’ advice, which I intend to put in practice later today. I’ve had too much “stress chocolate” lately…

MITSloan Review has an in-depth review where they focused on getting to the root of the excessive workload at the corporate world. The review is based on a book by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen called Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do about It and it has some interesting views about how being always contactable means that your works starts to get into your family and personal time. They also mention that while some companies allow for the flexibility of working from home, that is not an acquired right but something that you have to ask for and management “allows” you to do, creating an unpleasant “Mom, can I…?” negotiating dynamic. (a note on this link: it asks for payment for the article, but I could read it whole in my Feedly account. I just wanted to give you a heads up about it.)

For the freelancers out there, The Ladders gives you 5 ways to manage freelance stress and avoid burnout in a quick and easy to read article. Spoiler alert: exercise is there but chocolate isn’t.

Have you been plagued by deadlines lately?

Leave a comment below and tell me all about it 😊

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About Diana Ribeiro

About Diana Ribeiro

Diana Ribeiro is a pharmacist and freelance medical writer based in Cascais, Portugal. Before starting her career in medical writing, Diana worked 10+ years in hospital and community pharmacies, where she helped patients and healthcare professionals with drug management and information. Nowadays, she helps pharma, biotech, and meddev companies communicate with their audiences in a clear, accurate, and compelling way. Diana is an active member of the European Medical Writers Association, where she volunteers for the webinar team. You can find more about her on LinkedIn.


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