Hard deadlines and Soft deadlines

I took Russian in high school. It was a small, intense program, whose one teacher was passionate, tough, and kept the tight-knit program together with a strong personality. I did pretty poorly in the classes, but I still placed in an international essay contest. Several of my friends won national contests and got to travel to Russia as the prize.

My teacher had a number of proverbs and concepts that she regularly told her classes. Some were probably from Russian culture, but some were also probably from her own brain. One of those was the difference between hard and soft deadlines. Hard deadlines are the kind where if you don’t meet them, that’s that and you’ve missed your opportunity. These are the sorts of things where the people on the other side of the deadline don’t feel any need to accommodate your lateness: highly professional organizations like many applications, or places with clear reasons for the deadline, like with travel. Soft deadlines are the opposite: when if you miss the supposedly hard and fast deadline, you can still squeak in because either there’s low enough volume that it doesn’t matter, or because the people on the others side are waiting for you. In truth, you should always meet deadlines, but my teacher’s message was that it’s important to know the difference between the two types.

Today, I had three things that I felt I had to do today. One was an application whose deadline was tomorrow. Two were phone calls to my graduate school that I had promised myself or other people I would make today. I finished the application at about 4:30 EST, and then realized I didn’t have time to make the two phone calls during office hours. C’est la vie. Those two were the softer deadlines; they were promises made mostly for myself, but really they are things no one will fret about if I do them tomorrow. Learn to let it go. Learn the difference between hard and soft deadlines. It will make you less stressed and thus happier.

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