Do Fake Deadlines Actually Work?

The concept of setting fake deadlines, whether in the workplace or as a student is not uncommon and more often than none is for the kind of people that need to plan well in advance for project deadlines and submissions.

As architecture students, you’ll learn quite quickly that most deadlines are in quick succession of each other. Unlike most exam-based courses, we don’t have the luxury of a single period within the semester where there is more pressure and less time. This is the brutal experience we face throughout the entire year, each year of architecture school.

white and black electronic device

But fake deadlines can mean different things to different people based on the way you work. For some, it can be as simple as preparing a day ahead so as to avoid the last minute collective panic that every student experiences. For others, it could be a week before or even longer. Here, the goal isn’t to show off or increase the pressure, it’s actually to get you to do things earlier than expected, in order to reserve time for the unexpected. And the unexpected always comes around.

It might be small such as an error in printing or forgetting to include a page in your portfolio, but these are exactly the kind of things that can throw you off your game and send you into the deep abyss of pulling all-nighters and sacrificing your physical and mental well-being for the next week.

Fake deadlines are also great simply to avoid that entire toxic culture students get sucked into because they haven’t planned as well as they could have. The effectiveness of this method is a divider between planners and procrastinators. Is it a waste of time to set fake deadlines or does it help you to get clarity after you have finished the work, with time left for amendments.

How I Set Fake Deadlines

If you have read my earlier post on Calendar Blocking, you’ll see how I divide up the week prior to any deadline and block out working chunks based on the priority level of tasks that I need to complete.

This is usually the kind of plan where I give myself ample breathing room and sometimes extra time to complete tasks that I know won’t take me long. But the earlier I start, the quicker I finish which leaves me with time right before the deadline to work on whatever it is that is most important or the stuff I think could help it along.

Sleep is by far the thing I prioritise the most because if I’m tired or forcing myself to work when my energy levels are low, I know I won’t produce the best work I can. So for me, my fake deadline is usually the day before or 2 days prior to give myself a day for printing or writing summaries or whatever the final, smaller tasks are.

So what about when there are multiple deadlines each week for example? Instead of complicating it and trying to micro-manage each minute, you really have to focus on the next deadline whilst keeping the others in the corner of your eye. So my full focus and attention is on the series of tasks for the upcoming fake deadline I’ve set myself but if I ever need a break or find myself with extra pockets of time, I can continue the other tasks.

For example, when preparing for a crit, I made sure to get the layout and style out of the way first so that I’m not obsessing over small details later on. I was then working on a render which took some time, so I decided to update a progress blog for a different module whilst this was happening. It didn’t take away from my mindset and was simple and easy enough that I didn’t get carried away with it.

But this small and simple tick box makes it so much easier for my Future Self. Fake deadlines are there to induce a healthy dose of pressure, on your own terms so that it makes meeting them slightly easier.

Other Takes on Fake Deadlines

Sure, fake deadlines aren’t for everyone and the number 1 reason I get told fake deadlines don’t work is because our subconcious already knows it is fake – so there is no fooling that brain! It’s a fair point and not much can be done to change this but there are a few different approaches towards fake deadlines or due dates.

Khe Hy describes setting fake deadlines as “Caught up in the latest fire-drill or endless Slack thread, you move the (fake) due date forward by one day. Then another. And then another.” Which made me think. Maybe it’s more about self-control and being pretty harsh with yourself. But how can that be possible if our brains are master procrastinators?

Leverage.

Use leverage to keep you on track for this fake deadline that has some very real consequences. I’m all for living our best lives and making sure we do one thing a day that just makes us happy, but if you’re getting complacent and do not enjoy the last-minute struggle of putting together all your work last minute, try this;

Think about something you value (not to a huge degree) and find a buddy to help you conquer this goal. It could be something like, if you don’t finish your presentation by X day, you’ll have to give £20 to X person. Whether its monetary or some kind of activity or restriction is up to you. Here’s a snippet from this Reddit post.

Yeah, i know that very well. The source of motivation must be external. Any attempt that relies on “power of will” will eventually fail, because, as you said, your brain knows what you’re doing. If you give yourself 8h to do something, you’ll wait until the last hour to start.

My advice is: change the system. Break your project into steps that you must deliver daily (it has to be within a short period of time). Define and tell your client/teacher that you will deliver X result tomorrow, Y result the next day, and so on. Say that if you fail to deliver, you’ll be discounted money/points. Create a real threat that doesn’t depends on you.

Experiment

The fun thing about trying to be more productive, efficient or organised is that you can experiement and try different methods or concepts till something clicks and works for you. So treating fake deadlines as an experiement can also give you unexpected outcomes.

We often feel like we are the only ones drowning in the crazy amount of deadlines and submissions on top of the exhausting studio days but we’re all in the same boat. Your coursemates are also going though the same journey, which is why they will be much more open to trying social accountability.

As a group, try to work on your individual projects together. The studio environment is unmatched to anything else and can be a great base for forming new ideas or just helping each other out. Use social accountability to set fake deadlines and help each other get back on track if one person slips up. This is the whole reasoning behind having mentors and coaches except in this case, these people are literally in the same position as you and what’s better than someone who can relate to you?

At the end of the day, the deadlines or productive techniques you use are simply just tools. There’s no guarantee that setting fake deadlines will magically help you be super productive. But there’s also no harm in trying. There is harm, however, in letting go of the things important to you in order to try and survive or succeed at architecture school.

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