How to meet deadlines when you’re exhausted

How to beat a deadline

We’ve all been there. A fatigue like no other. You’re so tired you can almost see spots before your eyes.

But you have to keep working because you have an important deadline to meet. It may be a client report, a news story, or something that simply can’t wait.

Want to know how seasoned professionals keep going when they are really exhausted? How do they beat that important and pressing deadline? We sent out a handful of emails and got these really helpful and inspiring replies. There’s enough advice here to keep you going on the most difficult project when you’re energy is absolutely drained.

Got any tips not covered here? Share them in the comments.

Fear of missing a deadline

Erin Ellis, a part-time copy editor for and freelance writer, was previously a reporter and copy editor with the Vancouver Sun. She’s had a career filled with deadlines, and says: “Fear of missing a deadline generally has an invigorating effect on me. It’s easier to keep going when you’re in an office, but the self-employed can always envision the rent or mortgage payment coming due to get them going!”

Damian McAlonan, Managing Partner, The Boost Partnership, London, U.K., explains that: “We’re all hard-wired to take action because of fear rather than need and I’m no stranger to that.”

So what’s Damian’s technique? “What I naturally do is first project what the outcomes would be if I did or didn’t do it, then prioritize and take the appropriate action from there. In reflection, I ask myself why I didn’t get it done sooner or if my focus is in the right place.”

Pomodoro Technique

Toronto-based John Gilson, Communications Officer, Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, uses the Pomodoro Technique and explains it like this: “Deadlines are a fact of life in the communications field. When I find myself struggling to finish an assignment, I’ll re-energize by grabbing a coffee and stepping outside for a few minutes.

“To fight procrastination, I employ the Pomodoro method – setting a timer to 15 minutes and dedicating that time to the task at hand. The Pomodoro method is like a mental warm-up and helps me stay productive.”

Fiona Fenwick, author, advisor speaker, and Principal Consultant with, New Zealand, believes in the reward-after-a-job-well-done approach:

“A fresh mind is critical, otherwise I feel anything I delivered would not do justice to me or to my client/audience.”

“Whether I have one project or 50, each one needs to be treated as if it’s the only one and given that valuable attention. So a vineyard walk with my dogs or an energizing interaction with a colleague will usually do the trick. Chocolate and the promise of a glass of good wine as my reward seem to help too!”

Take a break to meet a deadline

Martin Fenwick, director, theCHANGEfactor, New Zealand, is crystal clear on priorities when it comes to deadlines: “Rule number one is always beat the deadline. It’s leaving it late or overworking the topic that gets you stressed. The best way to beat being tired is to break. Doesn’t matter how close the deadline is, if you are tired you wont do well. Take a break, fresh air, short walk, refocus and then get going again.

“To keep moving forward I just remind myself of all the other deadlines, challenges and issues I have managed in my time. That tells me that I can beat this one because I’ve beaten every other one and dealing with stuff under pressure is just ’normal’ so I will get it done.

“Finally, perfectionism has its place, but that place isn’t 3 a.m! Just remember you know the stuff you are writing about so your audience will never notice that it was 90 per cent because that 90 per cent is your 90 cent not theirs.”

Just like others, Sarah Hall, CIPR President 2018, U.K., embraces the idea of a short break. “I read round the subject and then go out for a dog walk and run so by the time I’m sitting down, I’ve another burst of energy and the words are ready to be written.”

Switch off distractions

Michelle Seguin is Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Chief Risk Officer with the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Canada. She’s worked in a number of high-pressure roles and is both methodical and strict when it comes to beating tight deadlines.

“When I have a deadline to meet, the best technique is to have the work planned out well in advance so it’s not a rush at the last minute, but unexpected issues do come up, so I’m a rush. I set everything else aside and totally focus on the project at hand. I ignore emails and any other distractions.

“I let my staff  know that I don’t want to be interrupted. I usually let my staff interrupt me anytime and have a open-door policy  so that they can move things forward, but at deadline time they know I don’t want interruptions and at times, I will close my door.

“The other technique is to use others to help me. Even when it’s a rush, more hands often help. So I look at what needs to be accomplished and delegate components of the work and am clear as to when I need the information. I continually check in with them to make sure they are on the right track.”

Josh Steimle, author, speaker, and founder, Influencer Inc is currently based in Shenzhen, China. He simply employs dogged determination go get work completed.

“I wish I had some special technique, but usually I simply plow through it as best I can, reminding myself how good it will feel once it’s done.”

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Sheelagh Caygill

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