How to stay productive when facing a deadline

Most of us work pretty hard to ensure an even schedule throughout the working week: five or more days of calm, measured – if industrious – productivity. Yet most people will also recognize the simple truth that, from time to time, work tends to get bunched up together. Whether it’s a fast-approaching deadline, a backlog of tasks, or an upturn in the market, everyone has to face up to striving onwards in the face of fatigue every once in a while.

It’s a common characteristic of the way we work, so it makes sense to be prepared for these tiring periods in advance. That way, when it’s two hours past your normal leaving time and there’s still no sign of getting home for the evening, you’ll be able to power through without producing substandard work. And the best way you can maintain your energy over days like this is to make sure you’re looking out for yourself from minute one.

This is achieved by creating a prioritized schedule. List down each task and sub-task that you need to complete, and figure out an order than enables you to get the most urgent and most difficult stuff done first – before your brain starts to slow down! Beginning with smaller tasks (if they happen to be important ones) can also be useful if you are a natural procrastinator: that way, the first leap is much easier to take.

Your schedule should allow for regular breaks. It can be a tough discipline, on a busy day, to force yourself to rest. That’s why it is very helpful to use an app such as Break Timer to remind you when each hour comes around. Taking even a 30 second break can improve your productivity by 13% – so it is worth doing, even if your logical mind reckons that working straight through will get more done.

These breaks should not be seen as an opportunity to catch up with your online life. Emails are a legitimate part of work, but they can take over the rest of your day if you allow them. Instead, mark a specific part of your schedule for dealing with messages, switch your notifications off, and keep your phone hidden from view as even the sight of this temptation can be distracting.

Instead, consider using your break to do some stretches. Stretching can boost the flow of oxygen to your brain, and keep your limbs supple – ideal when you’re working a long, mind- and derriere-numbing day at the office. If you’re short of room, there are plenty of exercises you can do without leaving your desk. A good one is to lean forward and pull each of your legs up and back towards your chest for around 30 seconds at a time.

If coffee is your fuel, you might be interested to hear about Dave Asprey’s so-called ‘bulletproof coffee’. The self-styled biohacker reckons that adding two tablespoons of unsalted butter to your cup of Joe can help to achieve mental clarity when you’re up against it. At the very least, it provides a curious alternative on a long day at work when the kettle is your only friend!

If that sounds a bit hardcore, you can at least use your coffee break as an excuse for a change of scene. Instead of returning to your trusty kettle, try moving your operation to a nearby coffee shop for an hour or so. A fresh environment can improve your creativity and concentration: it could be just what you need when your willpower is diminishing.

Drink nothing but coffee all day, however, and you’ll soon find yourself dehydrated and underperforming. If coffee is a useful tool, plain old water is a vital ingredient for success. Allow yourself to dehydrate, and you’ll feel a lot more tired a lot more quickly. Keep track of how much water you’re drinking all day long, and that way you can pre-empt disaster by topping yourself up before you start to get low.

There are plenty of less intuitive tricks you can try to help keep your energy up when you’ve been at it all day. Working while standing up can put you in a better mood and boost your brain power, according to experts. Listening to new music can keep your environment feeling fresh and your brain active – just don’t play it too loud! And working near a window can help you absorb daylight and fresh air, which should keep you feeling more awake than being sequestered away in a dusky corner.

Finally, don’t neglect the power of peppermint. A splash of this essential oil on your wrists, or kept open on your desk, can be great for your levels of awareness. And it’s probably a heck of a lot healthier than coffee and butter!

So keep these tips in mind ahead of your next deadline push or all-nighter. If you work together with your mind and your body, it is amazing what you can achieve. These tips have been gathered into a handy new infographic so you can refer back to them whenever you need that extra boost – because sometimes, our schedule is boss and we have to find a way to get things done.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

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