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Don’t be afraid of deadlines

Dead­line — now that sounds pretty dange­rous. It actually used to be, because the term origi­nally came from American prison camps: inmates were not allowed to cross a certain line under threat of death.

In our work envi­ron­ment, no one is threa­tened with death if they exceed a due date, the “dead­line”. Nevert­heless, it hovers over us like a sword of Damo­cles when­ever such a dead­line is approa­ching. Time limits are usually perceived as nega­tive and ther­e­fore dead­lines are not a good idea, are they?

It probably always depends on the situa­tion and the person — but in the ever­yday work of scien­tists, accor­ding to a recent publi­ca­tion, dead­lines have a small impact on stress levels. Sympa­thetic nervous system acti­va­tion, facial physio­logy, facial expres­sions and move­ments were recorded as metrics for this.

Accor­ding to the study, scien­tists consis­t­ently expe­ri­ence high sympa­thetic acti­va­tion during their work, which is also due to the large propor­tion of reading and writing acti­vi­ties. But this high sympa­thetic acti­va­tion was about the same both with and without dead­lines. It was inte­res­ting to note that the subjects reduced stress by taking corre­spon­dingly more breaks. In other words, they noticed them­selves when the cogni­tive work became stre­nuous for them. Dead­lines were not the driving force for them.

Quick tip: It’s better not to grab your smart­phone when you’re taking a break. Its inten­sive use increases the acti­va­tion of the sympa­thetic nervous system, just like stre­nuous intellec­tual work. A short walk or a power nap would be better.

Hasan, T et al. Sympa­thetic Acti­va­tion in Dead­lines of Deskbound Rese­arch — A Study in the Wild