4 Tips to Survive Rapid Course Development on a Deadline

We’ve all been there. The course launches in two days. Your SME just gave you another laundry list of ‘essential’ revisions, and entire sections of the course need to be added. So, other than starting an intravenous drip of caffeine, how do you tackle rapid development without going insane? Here are four tips and tricks to help you meet your course development deadline.


You’ve heard it a hundred times: “Plan the Work. Work the Plan.” When you’re in crunch mode, however, it can be tempting to rush into the work, trying frantically to get everything done at once.

Resist that urge.

You’re on a deadline, but taking an hour to decide how to you want to tackle the project is time well spent.

Step back for a minute and plan how you want to accomplish your goals. Ask yourself, “What tools and assets do I need?” and “Which development items are essential and which are ‘nice to have’?” “How long will each of these items take to implement?”

Once you understand your priorities, you can develop the course to them.

If you work on a team, decide what work you can ask for help on—particularly if someone is adept at a given task or skill. Just be sure to reciprocate the favor in the future.

What you’re working on moment-to-moment won’t always line up with your plan. And that’s ok. A solid plan and a timetable will help keep you grounded through the whole process. You’ll be able to quickly gauge what tasks are going well as well as when you need to communicate with stakeholders that something might need to be sacrificed on the altar of time.


Ok, so this one is a bit of a cheat in that it requires you to do some work beforehand. But really, there’s no excuse to not use templates to guide your work for commonly repeated documents, content areas, and other assets. If you take the time to create these guides, it will save you time when you’re working against the clock in the future.

Every time I work on a project, I ask myself “Have I done this before?” If the answer is yes, I consider creating a template for future use. If I’ve had to do it twice, it’s likely I’ll have to do it again.

If I start doing the task over and over again, I begin to look at ways to automate it—but that’s a topic for a future post.

Some common assets to have templates for include:

  • Syllabi
  • LMS Course Shells
  • Captivate / Articulate Modules
  • Video Clips

If you’re working completely in-house, your guides should include your organization’s branding. If you work with multiple clients, design a template that allows you to easily adjust the branding depending on who you’re working for.

If you’re in a bind, websites such as eLearning Brothers, eLearning Industry, E-Learning Heroes, and FasterCourse grant you access to hundreds of different templates without designing them yourself.

Whether you design a template yourself or adapt one to your needs, once crunch time hits, you’ll be glad you saved yourself a headache.


Flow theory (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990) is certainly nothing new to eLearning. We regularly try to design experiences that allow our learners to enter a state of flow and become deeply engaged in the learning process. Csíkszentmihályi describes Flow as:

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

So obviously if you’re on a deadline, you want to be in that state as much as possible. The more you can utilize your skills, the more quickly (and with more quality) the work will be completed.

While you can’t control all the factors involved in attaining Flow, here are some tips you can follow to give yourself the best chance of getting into, and staying in a flow state:

  • Work at times when you are naturally most productive
  • Remove distractions (email, cell phone notifications, social media, or co-workers)
  • Focus on the task for as long as possible (research suggests we are actually terrible multi-taskers)
  • Relax into the work and enjoy what you’re doing, particularly if it is challenging and you are learning something

Not only will a flow state drastically increase your productivity, the time will just melt away and you’ll finish before you know it.


Yes, I just told you to focus on a single task for as long as possible. But it’s also critical to take breaks. Eventually, even in a flow state, you’ll notice that you’ve hit a wall. Despite your best efforts, you probably won’t be able to maintain a flow state for the entire work period—and that’s ok too.

A wise friend once told me “Let your feasts be feasts, and your famines be famines.” You can’t always be productive. It’s important to recognize those times and to give your mind and body the time they need to recharge.

Oftentimes, you’ll even find that the solutions to some of your toughest problems come when you aren’t consciously thinking about them. Your brain gets to chew on them in the background and find a solution unconsciously. When we are stuck, our brains have a tendency to fixate on incorrect solutions—when we step away from that situation, it allows us to view things with a fresh perspective. That’s why so many people have their best ideas in the shower.

So, when you hit a wall try one of the activities below to let your brain decompress. Better yet, start building some of them into your workday if possible:

  • Take a walk outside to change your surroundings (weather permitting, our office walks as a mid-morning mental break)
  • Go for a drive
  • Read a chapter of a fiction book or favorite blog
  • Have an unrelated conversation with a friend or coworker
  • Take brief 20-minute nap (probably check with your boss though before curling up underneath your desk)

These breaks will help you mentally refresh and hopefully get you back into a state of flow as quickly as possible.

So, there you have it—four tips to help you get through a course development deadline. Check out and share the handy graphic below for a quick reminder on how to survive crunch times. We’re always looking for ways to manage these periods, so share your favorite tips (and caffeine delivery methods) in the comments below.


Brownstien, B. (2017). Multitasking is Bad for your brain. Retrieved Feburary 13, 2018 from https://fee.org/articles/multitasking-is-bad-for-your-brain/

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row.

Author: Dave Zokvic, Assistant Instructional Designer

Dave helps Model eLearning forge narrative and gamified eLearning and side-hustles as a writer and designer for Northward Compass. Off the clock, he’s likely eating sushi, wandering around a bookstore, playing tabletop games, or picking up his next ‘digital native’ skill.

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