How to Deal with Deadline Panic (Without Starting Earlier)

Somewhere between anxiety and dread is that feeling that creeps in on a Sunday evening. You still haven’t finished the spreadsheet that was due Friday EOD. Or cleaned up after the party on Saturday. Or bathed the bulldog. Or yourself. Oh, and it’s five minutes to midnight.

The Germans, who have an uncanny ability to capture in one word a feeling that would take a full sentence in English to explain, call this dread Torschlusspanik. Literally “gate-shut panic.” It’s the medieval fear of not making it safely behind the castle gate before nightfall. In modern usage, it describes the fear of running out of time . . . to act, to accomplish, to meet deadlines real or perceived.

Torschlusspanik can be triggered by trivial stuff like an overly ambitious weekend chore list or, say, a surprise visit from the boss, who plants himself in your office to chat when you have less than an hour to prep for a critical meeting. Often, all it takes to get that feeling started is procrastination and the guilt that stems from that inaction. (“You shouldn’t have left such a complicated project for the last minute!”) Or, on a grander scale, upward comparison, the dangerous practice of holding yourself up to someone you think is almost at the top of the mountain while you’re still trying to figure out which ropes to use.

Whether your fear of time running out is short-term or more epic, there are ways to make it…kaput:

When time is running out today

If you’re faced with 60 minutes to finish a report, answer “urgent” emails, and fill out this week’s fantasy- baseball-team roster, tackling three tasks at once may seem wise. But studies prove the opposite: Multitasking lowers attention span, increases stress, and makes each task take longer. So keep it simple, says Jordan Etkin, Ph.D., a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business who’s researched multitasking. When you have deadlines of 60 minutes or less:

When time is running out today

Now you have 24 hours to play with. The trick to feeling like there’s still sand in the top of the hourglass is to stop glorifying being busy. Our culture values action, so working through lunch makes us feel more productive and less guilty . . . while in fact ceaseless work makes us less efficient. Instead:

When time is running out this year/this life

Perhaps your head has run these lines: How is it March? How did I get to be this age without starting a family/hot VC firm/counterculture revolution (hell, I haven’t even broken 10,000 Twitter followers yet)? This is a deeper level of fear than the temporary panic of having too much to do. It’s the anxiety of falling short of your own expectations coupled with the feeling that you don’t have enough time left to meet them. When it hits, breathe and:

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