This article was originally featured in Forbes.
“Welcome to grown-up life."
It’s one of my favorite things I tell my students.
While applying to college is a right of passage, it’s also many students’ first encounters with the demands they will encounter in the professional world. As the co-founder of a company that prepares high school students for college, I often remind students of this reality: Not only is it one of the first times they are facing an outcome that is largely out of their control; it is also an early introduction to the kind of deadlines that truly matter — where the stakes are high and asking for an “extension” isn't an option.
The truth is, the college application process can be a valuable learning experience in preparation for a deadline-driven professional life. It’s also a lesson for my team in how to manage their own workflow.
Think like a marathon runner
The college application process is a marathon, not a sprint. Planning ahead is essential, and consistent training yields far more favorable results than last-minute sprints. Easier said than done, of course — whether you’re a teenager or a seasoned professional.
What does it really mean to plan ahead? How much time is enough? How do you stay motivated over the long haul? One way we do so, both for our students and team members, is by setting internal deadlines far in advance of the real date. While there is flexibility to internal deadlines, they help to prevent last-minute panics and signal whether everything is on track — before it's too late to make adjustments.
However, when you factor in the adrenaline and anxiety that deadlines so often provoke, we've found that slowing down and taking a step back is equally as important. When you finish, whatever the project might be, it can feel tempting to submit something as soon as it feels “done” just to get it out of your hands. But wait: Put a 24-hour moratorium on any submissions pending last-minute changes, whether it’s a college application or a business proposal. As I tell my students, it’s always better to sleep on something and send it off with fresh eyes.
Schedule time for last-minute surprises
Applying to college is inherently emotional, as is any human process. No matter how meticulously any of us plan ahead, last-minute surprises are inevitable. Knowing that, don’t just schedule internal deadlines. Create contingency plans for when those deadlines don’t work out. In any deadline-driven business, even the best-laid plans and most earnest of intentions need to be protected.
With this in mind, ask your team to block out time in the days ahead of the deadline should anything unexpected arise. Most importantly, urge your staff not to view those blocks as “free time” (though perhaps everything will go exactly as planned, which means it’s time to celebrate!). Instead, ensure that your team reserves — and then preserves — that time to calmly address any details that need last-minute attention without undue interruption or pressure.
Plan ahead for next time.
At LogicPrep, our deadlines are cyclical: Come November or January of each year, our students will be submitting their applications. Of course, ours isn’t the only business that adheres to annual deadlines. Once a deadline has passed, it can be tempting to kick up your feet and take off on a spa retreat, but the wake of a deadline is also the ideal moment to reflect on the completed cycle and set new goals.
In fact, most of the updates to our offering and spurts of hiring take place right after a deadline has passed, not only because it means our team has more time to dedicate to bigger picture goals, but also because we’re acutely aware of what we can do better down the road. So, think of the aftermath of a deadline as a time for reflection as much as relaxation. Ask yourself: What can I do now to lay the groundwork for next time?
Deadlines are known to induce panic, but they can actually be an effective tool for teaching time management and encouraging reflection amongst students and professionals. In college and in life, stress is inevitable, but the key is learning how to harness it to your advantage.