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5 tips to tackle your last-minute deadline rush

By Hannah 03 Oct 2019
Hourglass with sand falling through
It’s 8:55pm on a Wednesday night. You’ve been typing furiously for the past 12 hours attempting to finish the 3000-word assignment that is due at 11:59pm, and which you only started this morning. In true Eminem style, palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy ... aaand you have 800 more words to go on what seems to be a never-ending essay. You can feel your energy depleting, your eyelids are drooping, and calling it a day doesn’t sound like a half bad idea … but you know that’s just not an option. You weren’t raised to be a quitter.

Let’s face it, most of us have been there and done that, and know that last-minute deadline rush is stressful, to say the least. You may have ended up in this last-minute-rush dilemma by binge-watching all the seasons of Stranger Things – again – or perhaps life decided to throw you an unexpected curve-ball. Whatever the reason may be, it can be hard to keep your head in the game when you’re, in true Freddie Mercury style, ‘under pressure’. To avoid making a not-so-good situation even worse (and by worse, I mean #freakoutmode), as a fellow expert procrastinator, I’ve compiled my five top tips on how to most effectively work under the pressure of a fast-approaching deadline (AKA, when you have left starting until the very last moment … whoops?).

1. Focus on the bare necessities

Sing it with me now … ‘Look for the bare necessities/The simple bare necessities/Forget about your worries and your strife!’ Balu the bear sang it best, and these words couldn’t be more applicable than when you’re in the midst of battling a time crunch. For all of the perfectionists out there (like me), unfortunately, it’s time to throw that mindset out the window and focus only on the basics – because you simply just don’t have time to be picky. Grab a pen and notebook or open up a Word document on your computer and break down, task by task, what needs to get done. From writing the title of your essay to studying page one of module one for your exam, get into the nitty gritty detail. This task shouldn’t take you long but, however long it takes, it’s worth your time as there is nothing worse than not having a plan of attack. If you’re working on an assignment, use the marking criteria as a point of reference, or if you’re in the midst of exam prep, pay close attention to the objectives listed at the beginning of each module. Your aim is to complete what absolutely needs to be done in order to get you over the line.

2. Keep your eye on the prize

The time for procrastination is over. You’ve probably already done enough of that anyway (is that how you got into this predicament?) and if not, now is certainly not the time to begin. Sure, it can be easy to avoid something you’ve been putting off for the past month, but now is the time to focus on the task at hand and just get it done. Turn off your phone, put your pets outside, hang up that ‘do not disturb’ sign and embrace a life of solitude for the next while. Try and avoid studying in the comfort of your bed, as you may find yourself wanting to snuggle down rather than knuckle down. If you find yourself distracted by simply being at home, head out to your local library or find a quiet nearby park.

3. Prioritise your deadline as your one and only commitment!

To meet your deadline, you’ll need to calculate just how many days, hours (or even minutes) you have to complete your work. Then, find the list of tasks you identified in step one and calculate just how long each task should take. If you find that you are running out of time to get through all of the tasks listed in step one, organise them into order of priority. Forsaking the gym for an entire week and ordering take away every night until your deadline (although not ideal) is understandable on this occasion. If possible, swap your shifts at work to accommodate your deadline or ask if you can make up missed hours once you are more on top of things. If this isn’t possible, take advantage of your breaks at work, whether you have 15 or 30 minutes – it’s time to become a pro at studying under the pump!

4. Perfect the Pomodoro Technique

This handy little method of managing your time will become your best friend during the race against the clock. To put it simply, the Pomodoro Technique consists of spending 25-minute bursts on the task at hand uninterrupted (you are focused on the task, and the task only) and taking five-minute breaks in between each burst. Use your short break to walk around your room, grab a cup of coffee, do some breathing exercises … whatever helps you to relax and refocus (Cirillo, 2019). A word of advice from someone who has a slight obsession with their phone: don’t check your phone during this break! We all know five minutes can turn into 30 minutes very quickly when doing something we enjoy.  Once you have completed four 25-minute bursts of focused work, take a longer break, whether that be 20 minutes or 30 minutes, to let your mind recuperate and prevent mental fatigue.

5. Learn from your mistakes

Of course, throughout the process of racing against time to complete your work, you have probably questioned yourself a thousand times and wondered, ‘Why didn’t I start this earlier?’ It’s important to learn from this experience and, rather than dwell on what you could have done better, focus on what you can do better so it doesn’t happen again. If you’re not a huge fan of the stress and panic induced by leaving your work until the last minute, it might be wise to make time management and forward-planning more of a priority. For example, you could map out your deadlines on your calendar a few days earlier than they actually are to give yourself a buffer zone, or set a goal for yourself to work on your study goals for one hour every day. Time management looks different to everyone, so if you’re looking for more strategies, this time management eBook is a great place to start.

Unfortunately, I have found myself in the last-minute study dilemma a few times throughout my career as a qualified procrastinator, and even though I’ve learned how to get through it, I can confirm it is a situation I do not like to be in. Sometimes leaving things until the last minute simply can’t be avoided (life can be unpredictable at times) so if that’s the case for you, hopefully these handy tips will help you to thrive under the last-minute rush to meet your deadline. However, let’s be real. You and I both know our lives would be much easier if we could avoid this last-minute panic by being more on top of our workloads in the first place. Next time, I encourage you to try and plan ahead, or just simply make a start to whatever you seem to be putting off. Chipping a little piece of work off day-by-day beats the last-minute rush any day.

To prevent you from falling behind and having to play catch-up next time, check out the useful time management resources on USQ’s Social Hub.

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