I recently endured a horribly stressful deadline and near the final hour, I found myself face to face with a crippling phantom of sorts. It’s something that’s neatly tucked away within us all, waiting quietly for a moment of weakness: self doubt.

This troublesome specter is most likely to rear its ugly head when there’s a lot riding on what you’re doing and you’re running out of time. The higher the stakes, the lower the blows self doubt will inflict. The trick is identifying it. This may sound silly, but it’s not always apparent! You might get stuck in the rut of making small, meaningless changes and not being happy with anything. You might outright utter the words, “I’m never going to finish this,” without even making the obvious connection.  There are countless symptoms, but they all generally have stalling out and depression in common.

However, if you can identify the problem, you can certainly regain control.

Realize that most everyone, across every discipline, occassionally feels less-than-confident about their work and the effect is amplified when you’re under a lot of pressure. Take a deep breath and realize there’s nothing inherantly wrong with you. You’re human.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, identify small victories, like finishing one section of something, scripting one small feature, completing a minor asset. Each small stepping stone is progress. You might make a list of these smaller parts and check them off. This keeps you focused on dividing and conquering.

Force yourself to stop over-analyzing details. Make general passes with your work to block in your basis requirements, move on to the next critical aspect, and if you have time, go back in and refine. Nudging something back and forth endlessly or changing a value by a hundredth of a unit fifty times straight is often more time-consuming than it’s worth. Ask yourself if anyone is really going to notice before obsessing.

Don’t beat yourself up over time management during the last stretch. Even if you could have scheduled more efficiently or worked miracles early on, analyzing your shortcomings the day or so before your deadline doesn’t help you finish the task at hand. Shelf your criticism for a retrospective and redirect your attention to the present until your work is done.

Lastly, don’t give up. Don’t stop. Do take normal breaks for sanity, of course, but don’t quit altogether!  If you stare at your screen, lamenting that it won’t get done, then it certainly won’t! Set your sights on the goal. It’s better to meet that deadline with your best efforts than have nothing to show at all. At the very least, you can rest assured that you gave it your all.