As productive as we may like to be, sometimes life gets in the way. We may find ourselves taking energy shots late night to power through a massive assignment or to finish a project due in a few hours.
I have personally ended up in that exact situation. Last week as I was looking through my calendar, I realized something. A report, which I was given over a month to write, was due in….two days! I panicked and knew I had to get working on it immediately, but I also had other things to do which had been my priority before realizing this assignment had been forgotten about. In moments like these, it’s important to have an organizational action plan to best manage your time, priorities, and goals in a flash. So, if you ever find yourself in my shoes, here’s a plan of attack you may find helpful for getting things done in a time crunch!
My first step is to allow myself a moment to feel disorganized, stressed, or any other way that this sudden shift in my to-do list causes. I often choose, to call a friend for comfort and to garner some I Can Do It confidence from someone! After a brief discussion, I’ve cleared my negative emotions and feel prepared to tackle the task at hand.
Choosing a work or study space, or as I like to call it an “attack station,” is the second step. Some of my peers like to choose a study location based on “vibe.” Fellow blogger, Isabel, prefers Lederman Law Library because of the intense energizing atmosphere. Being surrounded by others who are extremely focussed and working intensely is motivating for her – this environment also tends to rub off on you and your motivation as well. When I’m under a tight deadline, I prefer to study in my room. But I do have the luxury of having a silent atmosphere at home as my housemates are extremely quiet and considerate. The downside to this is that it can be difficult to avoid the call of the pillow or other comforts! Although short, frequent breaks during intense or stressful work can be rejuvenating and increase efficiency, it may be difficult to afford one when in an extreme time crunch. In that case, you may want to get as far away as possible from your bed! Close proximity to caffeine can be another important factor in picking a location, which is why coffee shops and cafes are common workspaces.
Next, it’s crucial to plan and prioritize the tasks at hand.
Everything may seem urgent in a time crunch. Before starting, consider breaking down the task into smaller steps and then decide which ones are most important. Steven Covey talks about the Eisenhower Decision matrix in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The matrix categorizes tasks based on importance and urgency. An Impact-Effort matrix is a similar simpler version of the same concept. To assign Impact-Effort scores, take into consideration the core deliverables, what parts of the project are weighted the most, each task’s contribution to the overall project and learning, and what part gives you the strongest base and knowledge to complete the overall assignment.
It is important to prioritize and then complete the highest impact and highest effort tasks first. This method assists with something called Ego Depletion. Referring to Roy Baumeister’s research in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman states:
“…an effort of will or self-control is tiring; if you have had to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around.”
So I find it’s best to power through and get the most difficult tasks done first. This ensures that your motivation and initial full reservoir of willpower are utilized with full potential. Furthermore, once the harder tasks are complete you will get a boost from knowing the rest of the work remaining will be easier to do. By the time mental strain or exhaustion hits you from working frantically, only the low-impact tasks are left to be completed.
So, you’ve prioritized your tasks and are working on finishing them hardest to easiest. You find yourself almost done and bam, suddenly you realize you’re tired. Your caffeine limit is maxed out for the day, but given the time constraint, a nap to recharge might be out of the question. What else can be done to power through and keep the momentum going? The answer I always turn to is Yoga! Deep breathing yoga exercises are instant energy boosters! My personal favorite is Kapalbhati Pranayama, also known as Skull Shining Breath. It involves slow deep inhales and quick forceful abdominal exhales through the nose. Here’s a great demo of it which begins at the 7:00 mark. There are many more great energy boosting quick yoga workouts. A yoga enthusiast I know sleeps for only 3 hours a day, wakes up at 3 am and practices yoga for the next 3 hours. He is one of the most active and energetic people I know! Ultimately, a quick yoga workout or some rejuvenating breath work is a great replacement for a power nap and will help you to briefly reset and refocus before you dive back into your work.
It’s important to remember to eat wisely and stay hydrated (especially with all the caffeine) as you work. It’s best to refrain from oily junk food that can tire you down. I find dark chocolate, avocado, almonds, and my favorite, peanut butter and banana sandwiches are great study snacks for staying alert. Try turmeric! It’s an Indian spice that boosts cognition and overall energy levels. I say that based on evidence and years of personal practice It’s best to have it as Golden Milk with cinnamon, honey or brown sugar, and black peppercorns.
Once you’ve completed the work, submitted it and get a chance to feel relief, there is one final step to deal with; ensuring that you don’t put yourself in this preventable situation again by better managing your time and responsibilities. Umair has written an awesome blog on living a more efficient life. This blog reminds us that the only thing we can do is give our best in the time we have left. In order to achieve everything we want we must find a balance between perfection vs completion. Allowing certain tasks to take up too much time due to trying to perfect the outcome causes time overruns and disrupts time remaining for other tasks. Setting clear time limits for your priorities and sticking to them is critical. Don’t let stress inflict upon your time management plans. Life goes on after the assignment is done or after you miss a meeting or deadline. Maintaining perspective and being efficient at prioritizing things are key life skills.
In the event that these time crunches happen sometimes (and they do), take it as a challenge that will test your stamina and mind. Time and pressure can be great as it amplifies your concentration and you get things done quicker than you otherwise would.
With some pep talk with a buddy, a distraction-free study space, prioritizing the tasks, ensuring you take time to recharge and fuel your brain, and learning from each experience for next time, you and I will do just fine!