DeadlineThis is a guest post by Stanley Lee. He teaches you how to apply the Sovereign Zen philosophy in your college life and beyond, including workflow, personal management, life-hacking, etc.

If you’re in a demanding college major such as engineering and pharmaceutical sciences (the same goes for double-majors), you probably ran into deadline hardship more often than you like. For example, you may have 6 midterms exams, 3 paper and lab report deadlines in addition to 3 assignment due dates within the period of 1 week. Inside of having a panic attack like other average students, this guest post will show you how to damage control with ease and performance to show for it.

Prioritize with 80/20 Principle

Firstly, figure out the grade each test is worth:

  • If it’s worth less than 20%, then it’s a quiz. Spend no more than 1.5 hours in total studying for it (They don’t justify more preparation time). Schedule them in periods when you can quiz yourself quickly (for example, when waiting in line).
  • If it’s worth more than 20%, then it’s an exam. Spread out the preparation over even more days (at least for a few days in advance), but study no more than 1 hour a day intensely. You don’t want to fall into the trap of pseudowork wasting your time and energy.

Next, figure out the grade each assignment (by that, I mean problem sets, project reports, term papers, etc.) is worth:

  • If it’s worth at least 15% by itself, depending on whether you’re allowed to submit it late while absorbing a penalty:
  • If it’s worth less than 15% (especially for problem sets), don’t spend more than 1 hour either attempting it or filling in the gaps. A problem set is rarely assigned to be submitted less than 1 week from an exam date.

Note: In both cases, if the assignment is significantly related to an exam’s coverage, spend more effort on it. Doing so will save you time from additional studying by knocking off as many birds with one attempt as possible. You need to let small failures happen to make room for significant successes.

  • If no late assignments are allowed, at least attempt filling in the gaps as much as possible to earn partial credits.
  • If late assignments are allowed with penalty, turn it in at a later date. Suck up the penalty in exchange for more breathing room dealing with other priorities.


If you still have 2 or more major milestones that are scheduled too closely between each other, don’t be shy to negotiate with your instructors. This type of conflict usually occurs for other students of the same program (timetables are similar for standard programs, starting from the sophomore year).

In order for your efforts to be successful, it needs to be well-coordinated before you approach the instructors. If you hope other students mentioning the deadline hardship, you’re only going to postpone the deadline hardship (Remember, your goal is eliminating it, not postponing it). You need to communicate with instructors of ALL the courses involved. Propose date changes that would work in your best interests (and in turn true for your colleagues in the same program). That way, you can have a peace of mind without the hardship.

Remove Distractions

Surrendering to distractions exposes you to pseudowork. You will waste your time, energy, and attention away (You can’t afford them happening)!

If possible, avoid using the computer altogether (or at least keep your computer nearby, with all your windows closed until you need to find information or write an email scheduling a help session). If you do need to use your computer, minimize your usage of email (i.e. check and respond to only critical messages, and alert the sender to call you if it’s an emergency). Block out instant messaging and social media alerts. Use productivity tools like Rescue Time to limit yourself to online research if necessary.

In order to savor the important successes (i.e. maximizing the grades you get despite the hardship), you need to let minor failures occur. If you have pending bill payments or movie rental returns, they can wait if your hardship situation gets really intense. These minor failures can be remedied by paying the late fees (which are negligible considering the grand scheme of things).

Batching Your Questions

This is why procrastination is discouraged here. Starting the preparation a night or two before won’t allow you to batch your questions to be answered. Even 1 week before is stretching it (considering other exams are also competing for your preparation time).

If you’re stuck, don’t spend too much time staying there. Make a note of it. Once you’re only left with unclear concepts, ask them in batch either with a colleague, TA, or instructor. If your financial situation permits, consider hiring a tutor to help clear up those concepts and strategize your exam game plan (Side note: if you’re really stuck on where to find one, consider the consulting services of Liam Martin’s team).


Damage control can only work so far even if you do employ everything I said properly. You will get burnt out in no time if you procrastinated and resorted to this strategy every time. It would be far more effective if you follow these steps at the beginning of the term when your peers are busy partying:

  • Note down at least major test dates and assignment (in the general case of project report/paper/lab report) deadlines on your calendar; set up regular email reminders while you’re at it
  • If you noticed deadline hardship, negotiate with your professors now rather than making their jobs difficult closer to those dates
  • Consider consulting with a tutor (e.g. Virtual Teaching Assistant) on forming a study strategy to maximize the effectiveness and minimize the stress

Three Simple Requests

If you read this guest post and get something out of it, I’d like to ask that you do 3 simple things for me:

1) Spread the word by letting more people know about it. Tweet it on Twitter. Share it on Facebook. Submit it to StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, or anywhere else you hang out online. Tell a friend who might enjoy reading the guest post.

2) Leave a review here in the comments or write one for your own site. Give me your feedback and let me and other readers know what you thought of it.

3) Update me with the study tactics you have improved as a result of this guest post.

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