How Students Can Set Goals & Achieve Deadlines

When Emmitt Smith was in high school, his coach, Dwight Thomas, made everyone on the football team write down their academic and personal goals. “It’s only a dream until you write it down, and then it becomes a goal,” Thomas said. 

Smith later played for the NFL and became one of the best running backs in history. “I know that writing down my goals was an essential strategy,” he said, thanking Thomas while delivering his speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Read more to learn about how setting deadlines and becoming deadline-driven can help students achieve personal and academic goals.

What Is a Deadline?

A deadline is an essential component of goal-setting, since it establishes the “when” a goal will be completed. There’s also the “Time-Bound” element of SMART Goals, another great goal-setting methodology for students to learn and use.

Why Are Deadlines Important?

If you want to achieve goals, writing them down is only the first step.

The next step is to identify specific tasks that will help you achieve this goal and set deadlines to meet those tasks. This is exactly why to-do lists are so effective—because they make large projects or goals more manageable by breaking out specific tasks and steps that need to be completed. Breaking up projects into a series of smaller tasks and learning how to add in deadlines makes these projects easier to complete and prevents you from waiting until the last minute to finish your work.

This type of planning can help students finish school projects, follow New Year’s resolutions, or achieve goals, whether short-term or long-term. Goal setting also helps to build intrinsic motivation.

When students learn to work with deadlines, they can become highly effective at not just setting goals, but also completing those goals. Deadlines are important because they are key to completion. As the famous saying goes, goals without deadlines are just dreams.

A parent helping his child understand why deadlines are important.

Why Are Due Dates Important in School?

Even though getting the due date for an upcoming homework assignment may elicit a groan or two, it’s important to realize that due dates are important for school in the same way they are important for setting goals. Teachers and learning partners want students to reach specific learning goals, so due dates for assignments serve as deadlines to make sure students are consistently progressing towards these goals on schedule.

How to Set Deadlines and Achieve Your Goals

Ready to put these ideas to work and become more deadline-driven? Use these tips to help you map out your goals and set deadlines:

  1. Come up with your big goal or determine your project. Maybe it’s a school project, like a book report, or a personal project, like making the basketball team. 
  2. Figure out the tasks that you need to complete to make this goal or project happen. Once you figure out these tasks, organize them into ordered steps. What do you need to do first? Second? Third? And so on. 
  3. Schedule each step on your calendar. Assign deadlines to these steps to ensure everything is completed before the final due date. This will prevent you from procrastinating and missing deadlines. 
  4. Write down your deadlines. Writing down your academic goals, your steps, and your deadlines helps you analyze your thoughts and turn them into actions. Writing down your goals helps you commit to them because it makes them feel more concrete. 
  5. Figure out the right time limit. If you give yourself an hour to do your homework, you’ll spend an hour on it, but if you give yourself 30 minutes, you can probably get it done faster. Try not to make the time limit so short that it’s impossible to reach. 
  6. Use a timer. Keep track of time and prevent you from working too slowly. 
  7. Do the difficult parts first. Getting the tougher tasks over with can spur your motivation and make the rest of the project go more quickly. 
  8. Anticipate mistakes or delays. If you miss a deadline, what will you do? Figure out a plan ahead of time for dealing with problems so you don’t get discouraged or lose sight of your academic goal if something happens. 
  9. Determine your priorities. Start by figuring out which steps are most important in achieving your academic goal and seeing if there are any ways you can save time. If you run out of time, know which parts you can skip or do quickly. 
  10. Work ahead when possible. Once you’ve set your deadline, you know exactly what you need to know and when to do it to be successful. But challenge yourself to beat a deadline from time to time! It will build your confidence and your momentum to keep going.  
  11. Find support. Ask a parent, teacher, or your Learning Coach for feedback or help when needed. Sharing your deadlines is important because it holds you accountable, making you less likely to miss or change deadlines. 
  12. Get creative. Find ways to make setting deadlines fun. Make a chart, create a calendar, or draw a picture to visualize the process of finishing your project. 

Want even more goal-planning tips? Check out our article on 6 Simple Tips to Help Your Teen With Goal Planning.

A virtual school student finishing his school work on time by being deadline driven.

Taking Steps to Start Goal Setting

Here is a printable worksheet to help you set deadlines for achieving goals. Start by answering the questions at the top of the worksheet, which will help you think carefully about your project or goal. In the “Additional Notes” section, record any strategies you will use, such as rewards or activities. Once you fill out the details, you can post your plan where you’ll see it often and can begin focusing on completing one step at a time.

Learning How to Set Deadlines Is an Important Career Skill

Goal setting and creating a step-by-step plan for achieving goals, complete with deadlines, are skills that are valuable not just in online school, but also in college and the workforce. Applying these skills to personal, academic, and career goals is a great way to motivate yourself to achieve them. And with a goalsetting focus and a track record of achievement, you’re well on your way to a bright future!

To learn how you can enjoy the benefits of personalized online learning, including access to many honors and Advanced Placement®*courses, plus expert college and career counseling, visit the website for Connections Academy® online public school. Or, to learn about online private school, visit Pearson Online Academy's website.

*Advanced Placement® is a registered trademark of the College Board. Used with permission. 

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