It’s 3pm on a Friday and the unthinkable happens: A story is pulled. A design concept falls through. A last-minute email needs to go out ASAP. Everyone’s looking to you to swoop in with a genius save. To pull new creative out of thin air. And you’ve got mere hours to make brilliance happen. So… what do you do?

Here are five tips on how to handle creative emergencies without losing your cool.

1. First Thing’s First: Freak Out a Little

Young woman hides her face in her hands
Young woman hides her face in her hands by Zastolskiy Victor

Call your best friend to vent. Stare blankly at a video of kittens on your computer screen. Lock yourself in a conference room and ask, “Why me?!” over and over again. Give yourself a good five minutes to completely spaz out about the seemingly insurmountable challenge ahead of you. Then stop. Drop everything else (yes, even the cats) and get ready to roll.

2. Go Big — Really Big

Two Elephants fighting, not the way to handle creative emergencies
Two Elephants fighting in the Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa by Grobler du Preez

This is one of those moments when every grand, out-there, never-gonna-get-approved idea you’ve had deserves a fighting chance. So brainstorm like you’ve never brainstormed before, and make a list that mixes both the feasible and the impossible. Then go with your gut. But don’t just pick the easiest option! Choose the one that’s worth sacrificing a few hours of your sanity.

After all, creative fires are more than mini-disasters. They’re opportunities for greatness, and you should take advantage of them. On such a tight deadline, there’s less time for everyone and their intern to give an opinion on your font choice or preposition usage. You just might get away with one of those really, really big ideas you keep in a secret folder on your desktop. And your creative fix could end up the stuff of company legend.

3. Plan Your Plan of Attack

Projecting with pencil on the big urban drawings
Projecting with pencil on the big urban drawings by RossHelen

Your big idea won’t see the light of day, however, without some structure. Sketch out a timeline for yourself, down to the hour or minute if need be. For example: one hour for drafting, half an hour for refining, and an hour for peer review and final edits. The benefits of such a regimented timeline are twofold. You’ll give yourself room to create without losing touch of reality and your deadline, plus you’ll feel like you’re in control of the situation (i.e. your heart rate will return to normal).

4. Picture Victory

Female hurdle runner leaping over the hurdle
Female hurdle runner leaping over the hurdle by mezzotint

Sure, the finish line is nowhere in sight. But once you’ve put out the fire and saved the day, you’ll need to reward yourself for a job well done. Plan your celebration before you even get started — that way you’ll have something to work towards. Whether it’s a much-needed nap or a new pair of shoes, the added bonus will fuel your progress. Envision your moment of glory and seize it.

5. Visit Your Creative Happy Place

Beautiful young girl posing in the summer near the water
Beautiful young girl posing in the summer near the water by Mizin Roman

Now it’s time to do what you do best. Make magic happen. This is why you got into the creative industry, right? Tap into your imaginative energy and get in the zone the best way you know how. Turn off your phone. Play that Beethoven. Eat a bag of whale-shaped sour candies. Whatever helps you tune out the world and get it done. Then watch the wonder unfold. That rare moment when adrenaline, ingenuity, and talent combine under pressure can produce something truly beautiful.

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Top image: Young man using a tablet on the stairs in the office by loreanto