Three Ways to Consistently Meet Deadlines with a Chronic Illness

Three Ways to Consistently Meet Deadlines with a Chronic Illness

If you are chronically ill, odds are that you experience a wide range of unexpected symptoms every now and then, if not daily. Many of us experience random flare ups that make it very hard to function in the same capacity as our healthy or able-bodied peers. Living with a chronic illness while in grad school is another struggle because of the intensity of work load you will experience and no matter what type of accommodations you may (or may not) have, there will be instances where you will need to meet a deadline to make progress in your program.

As an academic coach who supports first-gen students of color in meeting their personal and professional goals and as someone who herself is a first-gen disabled and neurodivergent Chicana, I know first hand how hard it can be to manage grad school with a chronic illness. For today’s post, I thought I’d share some of the strategies I have been using for many years to help me stay consistent with my workload and with meeting ongoing deadlines.

1) I add cushion-time when predicting how long something will take. 

In other words, I overestimate how long something will take and schedule in time to “catch up” on a task in case life happens, and life does happen, sometimes more often than we’d like.

In grad school, when I was dissertating, I had designated writing days and no matter how hard I tried sometimes things would happen and I wouldn’t get to write much or at all. This was why I started implementing catch up weekends. I would have a weekend scheduled each month for playing catchup. All I did that weekend was write, not much else. Those writing retreat weekends helped me maintain momentum on my dissertation writing process and ultimately graduate.

2) I try to make things easy for myself.

If I’m having a low energy or brain foggy day, I work on a task that matches my energy. If I’m feeling too unwell, I take a break or rest and start my day later. If I’m working on a task that intimidates me, I break it down into a very small task. If I can avoid doing something from scratch, I will do that by creating and using templates, standard operating procedures, and systems. 

In grad school, I often used email templates when messaging my committee members, I often recycled materials from my dissertation proposal to apply for fellowships, and I used bits and pieces of course papers for my dissertation chapters. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or produce a groundbreaking dissertation, I was trying to do my best under my difficult circumstances; at the time I was chronically ill, a student parent, and working 3 part-time jobs to make ends meet. My goal was to produce good enough work to graduate. The groundbreaking work, I would often remind myself, could come when revising the dissertation into a book or when working on another book project.

3) I work on tasks well in advance of a deadline and have my own early internal deadlines for them

I’m usually done with a major task well before a deadline. This is so that just in case anything happens, I’m ready to submit it early or on the day of the deadline. Unlike other folks who may be able to start a task a week or days before it’s due, I’m often having to start projects very early on because I may get sick the week or day that something is due. This uncertainty helps to increase my sense of urgency, which motivates me to get work done. When the urgency isn’t there, I turn to working with a friend who does have that sense of urgency, which is often contagious and helpful for me.

I recall in grad school finishing all my dissertation year fellowship drafts before giving birth to my son. I often surrounded myself with a writing partner who had the same sense of urgency to complete their tasks as me. That accountability to get things done early helped me so much because I experienced unexpected birthing complications so as I was recovering all I had to do was log into my computer, load the documents, and click submit. I ended up getting awarded the Ford, AAUW, and UCLA DYF fellowships that year, among others. To make things even better, my writing buddy also got the Ford Fellowship that year! We were thrilled!

It’s been seven years now since I filed my dissertation. And yet I still rely on similar strategies to get work done. If you’re interested in learning more strategies to consistently meet your goals in a sustainable way, please consider signing up for my one-on-one coaching services. You can learn more by scheduling a free consultation with me.

You can also sign up for my email newsletter, where I share more knowledge related to demystifying grad school, sustainable productivity, and personal development.

Lastly, don’t forget to listen to my podcast episodes. Here is a link to all my episodes that focus on productivity tips.

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