When You Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

One of the things I love about being a web worker is the variety of projects I get to work on. Things never get boring around here because of that. Every now and then, an opportunity arises that’s a little outside my usual scope, and sometimes I’ll take it on just to push my own envelope on some level.

I’m currently working on a project that is pushing me to my limits, physically — that’s not something that usually happens when I work! There are three components: a lot of interesting and useful Internet research, some less interesting but easy recording of data in a spreadsheet and, the hard part, running all over the city of Paris. It initially sounded like fun, but in reality what I’m doing is quite grueling because, like most Parisians, I get around on foot and using public transport. (Doesn’t sound so bad? I climbed 300 steps yesterday alone!)

In the last 13 days (yes, I’m counting the days), I’ve been reminded of some strategies that have worked for me in situations like this in the past, and decided to share them because they can be useful in any situation where you’re in over your head.

1. The moment you realize you’re in trouble, negotiate the deadline. Even if you can only get a couple of days out of your client, it will help. You can get a lot done in 20 or 30 hours. Plus, even a short extension will reduce that sense of panic a little, maybe long enough for you to take some practical steps to address the problem, like the next one.

2. The moment you realize you’re in trouble, get help. Call on your network, tweet a plea for help and beg for a retweet, do whatever you have to do. The point is to try to delegate enough bits and pieces so that the load you’re left with is manageable. But be careful not to delegate to people who can’t operate without direction or whom you know to be flaky, no matter how desperate you are. They’ll just cause you more stress and fail to lighten your load.

If you can’t get any help, the next three points are even more important.

3. Pace yourself. If you work 18 hours one day, you’ll be much less productive the next day. Then you’ll just be more stressed, which will make you even more fatigued, etc. Sure, if you’re 25, you can probably do crazy long days for longer periods, but it will catch up with you eventually.

4. Schedule in at least one day a week to regroup. Try to accurately assess the amount of time you need to complete the work, and make a schedule that distributes the work more or less evenly over the time remaining till the deadline minus one day a week. And by “regroup,” I mean rest, not spend the day trying to catch up on the 10 projects you’re neglecting because of this one. That won’t help. Reassess the workload and adjust the schedule every day or two.

5. Don’t lose sight of what you’re getting out of the project. This will help you get through your darkest hour and keep you motivated. I’m not talking about the money, although that may be an important factor for you. I’m referring to the intangible things, like what you’re discovering, how you’re growing, how this work and experience will benefit you personally and professionally. You can usually find a bright side!

If you have survival strategies for desperate situations, please share! (I still have 10 days left and can use all the help I can get.)

Photo credit: stock.xchng user straymuse