There’s a freelancing ideal that states that if you’re properly organized, and manage your clients well, you should never come up hard against a deadline. You should never have to pull an all-nighter, work odd hours, or rush to get something finished.
But we all know that, despite best intentions, life can get in the way. We can’t always meet the ideal, and often, we (okay, I) fall far short. How do you survive the crunch times? Here are my favorite tactics.
If you’re already a heavy coffee drinker, you might need significantly more coffee to get a big boost, but coffee is always my first stop on the fast track to the all-too-imminent deadline.
Work in Short Grabs
If I know I’m going to be under the pump, I’ll often fit small tasks or pieces of the work into the otherwise unfilled gaps in my day. Sitting on public transport, waiting in the doctor’s office, and the half hour before my next meeting all start looking like opportunities to start or complete small jobs.
Often I’ll lose motivation for a task I’ve been working on a lot as the night wears on. If I can, I’ll switch to another task on my to-do list. This raises my interest level, and can refresh my perspective and passion for my work.
Depending on the work you do, chunking tasks can be a good way to plow through action points. When I break a job up into smaller chunks, I usually try to put a realistic time limit on each, as well. So when I look at whatever’s next on the list, instead of being overwhelmed, I think ‘Oh, it’ll only take a half hour. I can handle that.’
If I’m working late at night, music really helps me focus. It can block out the noises of normal life (TV, dishwashing, and other night time sounds) that might distract me. Certain selections can also calm frayed nerves or help motivate me.
Shut Out the Dark
While working near a window is great for natural light and a sense of connectedness during the day, at night, it only reminds me that I should be asleep. If I’m working late, I try to shut out the dark: switch on lights, close the blinds, and forget that the rest of the world is tucked up in bed.
Getting cosy and warm is usually what I do as I wind down and prepare for sleep. If I can open a window and get some fresh air in, so much the better for my alertness and productivity.
If the open window doesn’t work, taking a short-bust exercise break — as little as ten minutes with a skipping rope, or a brisk walk around the block — can get the blood circulating, the endorphins racing, and the synapses firing.
If you’re literally falling asleep at your desk, a powernap might be in order. As well as responding to your brain’s demands for sleep, a powernap can help to refresh you. It might not give you a solid four hours of concentration, but it might get your through another hour of work before you finally collapse.
These are the lifelines I use to keep myself going when I’m up against it. What are your secrets?