So you’ve left your work till the last minute. Now what?

Here are my tools for dealing with last-minute deadlines.

 

 

This is really bad, I think.

I just looked at my calendar and realised something.

The report, which I was given four months to write, is due in ten days.

How did this happen?

I honestly hate bloggers who make out as if they function perfectly at all times. If you come across these people – who tell you that they’ve followed their ‘morning routine’ strictly for the past four years, or who portray themselves as the encapsulation of productivity – be aware that they’re simply being dishonest.

Nobody’s perfect.

The truth is we all have bad days, weeks or months.

Yes, it’s essential that you do everything you can to ensure you don’t finish your tasks/projects/assignments/study at the last minute.

We know that this causes undue levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and is simply the least efficient way of completing a task.

However, sometimes life just gets in the way.

Last month, I found myself in this exact situation.

I had a major research task due in 10 days, which I’d known about for the past four months.

Due to various other commitments, I simply couldn’t find the time nor the motivation to sit down and do the work.

So what can you do when you find yourself in a similar situation?

What are the best ways of getting a task done at the last minute while minimising stress?

Here’s my toolkit:

 

  1. The Pomodoro Technique

I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique on and off for the past six years, and it’s been incredibly useful. It involves segmenting your work between intense 25-minute bursts of work, and short breaks.

During these 25 minute chunks, turn off all distractions. Set your phone to flight mode and disconnect from wifi if you don’t need the internet for research. You want to be single-mindedly focused on the task at hand.

This is a much better method of working than the old ‘I’ll-just-see-how-long-I-can-work-on-this-task-and-then-take-a-break-for-as-long-as-I-need’ approach.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different Pomodoro apps, and the best one I’ve found is called ‘Focus Time’. I use it to keep track of my 25-minute work cycles – an alarm goes off at the beginning and end of every 25 minute period. However, you could just use a stopwatch/alarm to achieve a similar effect.

When using the Pomodoro technique, my time spent working looks like this:

  1. 25 minutes of work
  2. 5-minute break
  3. 25 minutes of work
  4. 5-minute break
  5. 25 minutes of work
  6. 5-minute break
  7. 25 minutes of work
  8. 30-minute break (usually for lunch)

However, the significant revision I make to the traditional Pomodoro technique is that you can’t just do anything during the 5-minute breaks. Instead, the 5-minute breaks shouldn’t involve web-surfing/playing with my phone.

We know that constantly shifting between tasks can lead to something called ‘attention residue’, whereby you still think of a previous task when you start a different one [1].

I find that if I read a news article, or watch a quick youtube video during the break, I’ll still be thinking of that as I re-commence a 25-minute chunk of work. This means I’m not fully concentrating on the task at hand. Instead, I’d be giving it about 70% of my focus.

So, for my five-minute break, I usually go for a quick walk (around the room), go to the bathroom or get some water.

In other words, I try not to engage in an activity that demands much focus and concentration for those short 5 minute breaks.

 

  1. Don’t watch videos or read articles in the morning

As I’ve described previously, I typically like to read the news for half an hour when I wake up.

However, I find that any form of web-surfing in the morning can lead to over-stimulation.  It’s the feeling you get where your brain is ‘buzzing’ a bit from all the flashes, headlines, and enticing clickbait that’s put in front of you.

This then makes it harder to focus on more mundane things like reading academic articles.

So, to avoid over-stimulation, I don’t do anything technology-related when I wake up.

 

  1. Commence work within 30 minutes of waking up

In times of tight deadlines, I prioritise work over everything else – working out, reading, cooking good food, and socialising (come on, this one’s a no-brainer).

I’m the most focused in the morning and slowly get more tired as the day progresses. So, to make the most of this, I prioritise work as the first main task of the day.

I’ll typically wake up, have a shower, drink a coffee and then sit down to work.

I’ve found this to be one of the most effective ways of harnessing focus and concentration.

 

  1. Embrace nap-time

There’s no doubt about it – doing intense work with full concentration makes you tired.

There are many ways you can try and refuel your depleted energy reserves – e.g. eating or coffee – but one I resort to in emergencies is nap-time.

I’m a big sleeper, so I’ll actually have a one hour nap in the afternoon right after lunch (my least productive period of the day). This usually happens from 1.30pm-2.30pm. I’ll then get up, have another shower and drink a second coffee to fully wake up and avoid the ‘nap-haze’ that many people experience.

This ritual also simulates my typical morning wake-up routine. It’s my way of tricking my body into thinking it’s the beginning of another day, which for me, is the most productive part of the day.

 

Conclusions:

I’d only recommend following these steps if you get desperate. There’s nothing fun about making work the sole focus and priority of your life.

During these deadline periods, a balanced lifestyle really becomes an afterthought for me.

I might not go to the gym in 5 days, I might have to eat cheap takeaway food for the entire period, and human contact becomes limited.

However, we all find ourselves in these situations on occasion, so it’s a good idea to have a toolkit ready to deal with it when it arises.

 

 

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Leroy, S. (2009). Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 109(2), 168–181.

 

 

 

Subscribe

Subscribe to the free newsletter and get blog posts delivered straight to your inbox

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *