Even when you plan a project and manage it obsessively, you still run into crunch-time scenarios. It’s a fact of life. New ideas emerge as the project develops, and you want to over-deliver on client expectations. So you wind up pulling some long nights—sometimes days in a row.
We asked the team what they do to thrive during crunch time.
Crunch times are a study on focus. On a tight schedule, focus is provided for us externally—we don't really get to decide whether or not we'll allow distractions into our work. Our focus naturally narrows to the minimum viable requirements; we lock in and run straight toward them.
After the reality of a crunch time sinks in, I feel myself slide into "finish it" mentality. I worry less about the aesthetics of my work environment (closing open tabs, fiddling with preferences in tools). I lean back hard on the shortcuts and tricks that are most comfortable to me—crunch time isn't the time to experiment with new, potentially brittle workflows. The nonessentials of the project sift through my priority list naturally, and the big, critical tasks assume importance.
The obvious lesson from crunch times is just how efficient we have the ability to be in periods of deep work. We're all actually better at working than we think we are. What's the answer?
Synthetic crunch times. It's not quite the same, but here's how I do it:
- Set a simple timer (I love Countdone) to carve out a hearty block of time.
- Write down a single, clear goal.
- Shut off notifications—everywhere.
- Finish the goal before the timer goes off.
Take breaks. It may sound counterproductive, but if my mental gears are grinding, I've found that it can be refreshing and encouraging to hop up and do something else for a second.
Get a glass of water. Eat a cookie. Crank out some push-ups. Do something every once in awhile to keep your brain from suffocating.
I survive crunch time by making time for my family, even when work is crazy. Also, I drink a lot of coffee—Concentrados from PRESS to be specific.
I like to set up some simple rewards for myself. Something like, "Once I get all of these tests passing or this feature is complete, I'll go play a game of ping-pong or go get a cookie (I like cookies)." Giving myself some short-term goals helps me to keep focused on small chunks of large problems to get through daunting tasks.
The way I handle crunch time is to put on my headphones, turn up some music and get out the sketchbook. The type of music I listen to often depends on the mood of project I'm working on. My goal is to get to that creative "zone" as quickly as possible where I'm working through ideas quickly. For me, it also helps to change scenery. I always seem to get a lot done at coffee shops.
As a deadline looms, I find that making decisions becomes easier. This says nothing about the quality of those decisions, but a deadline can do much to relieve the "analysis paralysis" that often accompanies the perception of time being unlimited. Perhaps this isn't exactly a description of thriving or coping, but it's what I feel most prominently during those "crunch times."
During crunch time I try to focus on being healthy. So many times in the past I tended to let everything go (health, sleep, family time) during high-pressured situations. So now I try to make sure that I workout everyday, eat better, and spend quality time with my family. This helps me make sure that I avoid the post-crunch-time sickness.
When things are starting to seem a little crazy and overwhelming (crunch time-y) I find that it's helpful to step back and write down all the tasks that I have to complete.
Something about actually writing it out and seeing everything in front of me helps me get my mind to clear up, allowing me to break down my issues and solve them.
The essentials are good coffee, headphones, and music. Sometimes I need help focusing by changing the venue where I work. This can be as simple as somewhere else in the office or heading to a café. Lately, I’ve become a big fan of working from the rooftop at our new office.
When crunch time creeps in, I get snacky. I've figured out how to use that to my advantage though: incentive.
First, I write down all the logistical elements that need to take shape, from the present to completion of the project. Then, I divide my work into manageable clusters.
At the end of each task set, I treat myself to an oreo or a coconut La Croix or a plate of cheese fries—whatever the situation demands.
I follow the GTD method.
Stay focused on the task at hand as much as possible! Write down everything not more important than that, and put it out of mind.
Sometimes certain things can be dealt with quickly. Generally my rule of thumb is, if I can deal with it in 2 minutes or less, I'll do it right away and will write down everything else to process later.
The main ways I cope with stressful situations are to vent and make jokes.
I find that I have to walk away and vent sometimes. Getting out the frustration lets me clear my brain and focus. Remembering that I’ll barely remember that moment a year from then helps too, but mostly the venting.
I also like to tell jokes. I’d rather laugh than cry, and a joke can usually help cut the tension in the room—by either getting everyone to laugh at how funny I am or just at me (I tell a lot of really bad jokes).
I like to focus by crafting task-specific lists. I start with small, easier tasks to gain momentum.
The biggest thing is to just get started. You can't finish unless you start.
When a deadline is creeping up too fast I make LOTS of Stickies to prioritize my final pieces. Having a list helps me focus on tasks instead of worrying something may have been forgotten. Crunch time also calls for my headphones to minimize distractions.