Managing the pressure of deadlines at university

Jo Baker

Jo Baker is a psychotherapist, clinical supervisor and educator specialising in student wellbeing and learning.

Deadlines are an inevitable part of university life and navigating them can sometimes feel stressful.

For many students, managing the pressure associated with deadlines can be a daunting task. Everyone’s approach to managing this pressure is unique. With the right strategies in place, it is possible to navigate university work whilst maintaining your wellbeing.

Plan your time:

Managing your time is key to managing your workload. Writing down your tasks and ordering them based on urgency and importance can help you to concentrate your efforts on the most pressing tasks first. Taking some time to write out a timetable of what you’re going to do and when you will do it has a number of positive benefits. It allows you to visualise your schedule, making it easier to track deadlines and to block out time for each task, as well as add in some important breaks. It can be tempting to just focus on academic work but having a balanced routine can play an important part in your mental health as well as keeping you organised and motivated.

Establish realistic goals:

Set achievable and realistic academic goals. Breaking tasks into smaller steps can help you to track your progress and stay motivated. For example, focusing on writing the introduction and first paragraph of an essay, rather than trying to tackle 2,000 words at once can make the assignment feel more manageable. The process of working through smaller tasks can also mean you are more focussed and effective whilst ensuring you don’t overwork yourself.

Use your support network:

Collaborating with friends, family or academic support can provide you with encouragement, offer new insights and make learning more engaging. Tutors and academic advisors are there to support your academic journey and they can provide guidance and clarification on tricky topics and discuss the possibility of extensions so feel free to approach them with any concerns or questions.

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Find support services provided by your place of study

A lot of people see their university as a source of stress and worry. They feel bogged down by deadlines and revision and can feel isolated and sometimes hopeless as things to start piling up. But by being aware of what your particular institute could do for you as well as implementing any preventative measures to make your time studying a little more plain sailing, you can really make the difference between looking back on your time at university and thinking: “That was so stressful and difficult - I’m so glad it’s over” or thinking: “Wow, that was hard work - but what an incredible ride!

There are a range of support services available at University, these can help to put you in a better position to succeed and manage your wellbeing.

Minimise distractions:

Distractions like smartphones, TV, and laptops can hinder productivity. A study by the University of California, Irvine, found that whilst people can compensate for interruptions by working faster, this comes at a price. We can experience more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort. It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on a task after an interruption.

Creating an environment that supports your study can help you to focus more on your work, complete tasks more efficiently, and reduce overall stress. Consider:

  • Turning off unnecessary electronics or leaving it in a different room

  • Utilising smartphone tools or apps to temporarily block more distracting websites

  • Setting specific times for checking social media or emails

Some students find it helpful to communicate their study times to friends and family in order to share understanding and minimise interruptions.

Prioritise sleep

Good quality sleep can support academic success. Research from the last 20 years indicates that sleep does more than simply give students the energy they need to study and perform well on tests. Sleep actually helps students learn, memorise, retain, recall, and use their new knowledge to come up with creative and innovative solutions. Establishing a regular sleep schedule can mean that you are better equipped to handle academic challenges.

Eat well

What and how we eat affects our physical health, our mental health and also our learning. A healthy balanced diet has been associated with better cognitive functioning, visual memory, learning performance and sustained energy levels. Improving your food choices may help to improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think more clearly.

Take regular breaks

Giving yourself breaks can be a powerful part of managing stress and staying motivated. After achieving a goal or completing a significant chunk of work, take time to enjoy your favourite activities. Whether that is spending time with friends, having a relaxing night in, watching a film, or drinking your favourite coffee. However small, a reward is a good motivation to continue and feel proud of your achievements. These moments also allow you to step back from your academic responsibilities, giving you a chance to return to your studies feeling refreshed.

By implementing these simple but practical strategies - from prioritising your wellbeing to effective planning - you can manage your workload more efficiently and reduce stress.

Remember, the key is to find a balance that works for you between working, engaging with your support network, and putting time in for regular breaks. Best of luck, look after yourselves, and ask for help when you need it.

Page last reviewed: April 2024