How to Create on a Deadline... Fast

Mar 6, 2015

So you just got a last-minute creative assignment… and it’s due tomorrow.

(Just kidding! Let’s try that again.)

So you got a creative assignment two weeks ago… and you procrastinated and whined and dawdled, and NOW it’s due tomorrow.

You don’t have time to wait around for inspiration to strike. You’ve got to be creative on-cue, and fast.

What to do? Check out our 10 simple tips for spurring creativity... when the clock is ticking.

1.) Drink all the coffee

YES, all of it! This isn’t a drill!

Brew yourself a pot at home. Get impatient halfway through the dripping process (water torture-like drips remind one unpleasantly of the time passing, don’t they?) and run out to your corner coffee bar. Communicate in urgent grunts to the surly barista that you’ll have that double-espresso extra large Red Eye special. Gulp it down. Burned tongue? WHAT burned tongue? You feel no pain, you Creating Machine!

2.) Set up your workspace for optimum productivity

You know what takes up valuable Producin’ Time? Running to the bathroom every five minutes after drinking your fourth Red Eye special. Why not cut out the trip?

… no, I am advising you to fashion a makeshift toilet in your home office. Gee, what is wrong with you? That is disgusting.

Instead, work from your bathroom! Voila, commode + delicious drinking water at the ready. Why did nobody think of this before? Plus, doesn’t the echo make it feel nice and spacious? It’s like working at the bottom of a very cold, damp, mildewed canyon!

3.) Eliminate noise pollution

I am not saying that you should lob Jell-O pudding cups at the heads of the teenagers congregating loudly under your fire escape. I am not saying that because of legal restrictions, but your throwing arm is still pretty good, right?

4.) Resist distraction

Now that those teenagers stopped pounding on your door – they sure were mad, huh? – it’s time to get serious. Do a quick scan of your space. Do you see any items that may distract you? You’ll need to hide them until your work is done!

How about that Game Boy your nephew left behind last weekend? Best tuck that away! Probably it’s out of batteries anyway; just turn it on to make sure. Oops, that game started up. Maybe just one round – that’ll start the creative juices flowing!

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5.) Panic


6.) Self-soothe

Everything’s going to be fine. You’ve gotten out of worse scrapes before, right? Right. You still have all night to finish. It’ll be just like college – a good ol’-fashioned all-nighter. You liked college, right? You’d stay up late chatting with your buddies in the dorms, power through your essays before 4 AM, and still wake up fresh as a daisy. And you can still do that, tiger, because YOU’RE STILL YOUNG, JUST LIKE THE NIGHT IS YOUNG.

Oh good God you sure will need more coffee.

7.) Imagine worst-case scenarios

Psychologists recommend that in times of great anxiety, one should envision the absolute worst-case scenario, therein relieving outsized fears… or you’re pretty sure you once read that in The New Yorker, anyway.

Okay. So you’re a little behind. Close your eyes for a moment and picture the WORST thing that could possibly happen if you don’t meet your deadline. Really let yourself be lost in the macabre fantasy!

……………….. ………

Geez, that was pretty grim – not even the mutant zombie rats wanted to be your friends, huh?

Thanks for nothing, New Yorker psychologists (?)!

8.) Finally start working

It doesn’t matter if it stinks, okay?! JUST GET IT DONE. You’ll figure it out! You’ll finish and put a flashy border around this big disaster, and surely that will save it!

… clients love borders!

9.) Bargain with your higher power

“Dear Lord,

If I get this project done on time, I swear that I will never procrastinate again. In fact, I will teach others not to procrastinate, too! I will be the High Priest of Non-Procrastination and wear a hair-shirt and everything. Please please please please please please.


Repentant Q. LearnedMyLesson

P.S. Also I will call my mother more often I promise and also stop saying such mean things about pigeons. PLEASE.”


Panting, hollow-eyed, in the grip of the Cold Coffee Withdrawal Sweats, finish just in the nick of time. Stagger off to bed, triumphant. You were never worried, you champ!

For people like you, creativity just comes naturally – it’s just like, y’know, a gift that flows effortlessly from some ineffable source.

Before you fall asleep, remember – you’re going to need to buy some more Jell-O.

Freelancers, how do you power through in times of great peril?

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.