A common question asked to a designer in a job interview is if they are okay working overtime. It’s pretty standard in the design industry to have a project that requires a bit of overtime due to an deadline. But most designers never have to deal with a truly insane deadline. The kind where a deadline is physically impossible to meet unless unreasonable amounts of overtime are put in. Years ago, I had an experience like this, where I ended up not leaving my desk for three days because of this crazy design deadline. Here’s my tale of woe..

The Work Starts Piling Up

About a decade ago I worked at a small start-up that was trying to make a name for itself in publishing. I enjoyed my job so much I regularly stayed late into the night scarfing down pizza and designing in my cozy little office. The more successful the company got, the more work I had on my plate. But I was still the only designer working on our biggest publication.

Fast forward to one week before the publication is due to the printers and I’m staying at the office until 10pm or later each night just to stay on track. More work keeps coming in – more ideas – more advertisers and writers want to be involved. But it was too much.

Day One: Still Adding More Content

Three days before the deadline, new work is still coming in that needs to be incorporated into the publication. The entire thing hasn’t even been proofed yet and I was still adding new content. So I decided I wasn’t leaving the office until it was off to print. Not even for lunch. My co-workers would bring me bagels and pizza while I worked. My boss even went out and got me flatbread and cheesecake from my favorite restaurant. Not ideal design fuel, but it kept me going.

Day Two: Powered By Chocolate

After 24 hours at my desk I was feeling optimistic. I’d been there so long I must be nearly finished. My co-workers stumbled in around 8am seeing me dressed in the same clothes as the day before, asking if I’d been there all night. I happily answer “Yup!” I was pretty optimistic at that point.

That evening, still not having sent the PDF to the printer, things were starting to take a toll on my mental state. Every time I finished one page, a new blank one would be staring back at me, wanting to look as pretty as the last. My eyes kept closing for a moment, then opening wide as I forced them to.

I sprinted around the office and did jumping jacks to kick in my adrenaline so I could stay awake. Then I’d have some green tea, chocolate, and get back to work. I don’t drink coffee, I just don’t like the taste, so sadly, that wasn’t an option for me. I don’t like energy drinks either, so I was powering through on the tiny amount of caffeine that tea and chocolate granted me.

Day Three: Red Eye Proofing

After 48 hours I was a zombie. I was getting the work done, but in a state of near hypnosis. The up-for-48-hours sleepiness is different than the 24-hour one. It felt like my energy was leaking out from my fingertips. I wanted a nap so badly, but there was no time. My co-workers saw me again that morning, still in the same clothes. They didn’t pay any attention to me. They knew I had work to do.

Later that night, I was nearing the finish line. If I didn’t die before I got this PDF to the printer I would be happy. It was around the 65 hour mark that my brain decided enough was enough. It was going to fall asleep without me. I was proofreading text in an article when I started to dream. There were Disney princesses fighting vampires in my head while I stared at my computer monitor. It was nuts. I smacked myself in the face to wake up. Then I took at short break to do some jumping jacks.

At 2 am I was making the final revisions. Then things really got weird. From the corner of my eye a large grey wolf ran past my office into the reception area and hid behind the sofa. I got up and closed my door. I knew it wasn’t really a wolf, but I couldn’t be sure. When I looked up again the wolf was gone. This time there was an astronaut hovering beside the wall in the office across from mine. I think he waved at me. I didn’t mind that as much.

4:30 in the morning and I was done. Every page was proofread, all images were 300 dpi, and all colours were CMYK. It was good to go. I sent the PDF to the printer, waited for the e-mail confirmation, finished the last of my tea and locked up the office just as the sun was coming up. Then I started the 30 minute drive home.

Deadline Met: Finally Leaving the Office

It wasn’t a good idea to drive on so little sleep, but I am fortunate nothing bad happened. It was 30 minutes of highway driving; a drive I had done hundreds of times before. There were no cars on the road aside from me; just a cool breeze from the window and extremely loud music blasting from the speakers trying to keep me awake.

I sang along to the music to occupy my mind while I drove. I wasn’t on the road more than five minutes before I noticed something crawling around the passenger seat. But when I looked, nothing was there. I turned back to the road, and there it was again. Just out of my peripheral vision I could see tiny bugs scattering themselves all around my car. I was starting to miss the astronaut.

I managed to stay wide awake for the rest of the drive. When I was two minutes away from my house the bugs were still crawling around, so my mind got creative. I looked down at the road and it was covered in sprinkles. Sprinkles. Then a blue Volkswagen turned the corner and as it drove past I noticed it had a single, enormous, feathery wing.

I finally got home, unscathed and ready for bed. I had a fantastic 20 hour nap, a super long weekend, then went back to work on Monday to start the next publication.

A Crazy Design Deadline: In Conclusion

Is there a moral of this story? Sure. First, if you think your boss needs to hire more people, tell him before the workload gets out of control. You can’t do everything yourself. If you need help, ask for it. Also, if you need more time due to a crazy design deadline, ask for it. When neither of those are an option, get something stronger than green tea and chocolate in your system.


Photo Credits

Header photo by Eugene Chystiakov from Pexels