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I want to say something like,

I am getting down to the chopping block

but that means more like, I am deciding who to keep and who not to, it conveys being harshly decisive.

That's not quite the point. The point is that as you approach the final hour, things get tense, yet exciting.

Is there a similarly colourful expression of the form, "I am getting into/down to...." ?

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  • 1
    I soon as I wrote this, it occurred to me that "the midnight hour" is not a bad expression. Aug 16 at 15:14
  • Or “burning my last candle” Aug 16 at 17:20
  • When NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) landed the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover) on Mars, the entry descent and landing (EDL) phase was nicknamed "7 minutes of terror". An an engineer, I've found this reference useful on many occasions to describe a time-sensitive critical point of a project. But, it's not a general expression, and also not the end of the project. The Cassini space probe's end was dubbed its grand finale, but that just means the end rather than getting close to the end, and it's more inevitable than urgent, but it was tense and exciting!
    – Wyck
    Aug 17 at 13:52
  • Entirely not colourful, but still idomatic: 'rapidly approaching the deadline'.
    – mcalex
    Aug 18 at 5:13
  • 1
    Who are you saying it to? People on the project or superiors about the project? Are you inspiring urgency or conveying your commitment to success to a third party?
    – SargeATM
    Aug 19 at 15:31

11 Answers 11

22

You can use the idiom (be) in/on the home stretch. I believe it is used as home straight also in the UK.

In the midst of the final portion of an activity, project, competition, etc. Likened to the straightaway at the end of a race.
The bulk of the work is behind us—we're in the home stretch now!
idioms.thefreedictionary.com

The analogy comes from horse racing, and home stretch is a term used in baseball also.

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    I'm not sure this necessarily always includes the tension/excitement aspect? It can sometimes be more a sense of relief at coming to the end of a long journey/project/etc.
    – Mohirl
    Aug 17 at 10:52
  • 1
    Similar to this would be: "on the last leg". Note that both of these imply a project ending on schedule with no extra work required and no tension about whether or not it'll be done in time. If you want to imply that extra effort and anxiety, I'd go with Weather Vane's answer of "crunch time" instead. Aug 17 at 15:14
  • 6
    I agree with @Mohirl, "on the home stretch" implies relief, more along the lines of "we're almost done (and then we won't have to worry about it anymore)", whereas the other answer's "it's crunch time" has connotations more along the lines of "we're almost out of time (so we might not make it in time and need to work harder)", which I think is closer to what the asker wanted.
    – Hearth
    Aug 17 at 18:58
  • Re home straight - that sounds idiomatic to my UK ears. According to en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/home_straight it’s an athletics reference rather than horse racing. Mm . And the athletics track is what comes to my mind reading the phrase. Home stretch sound a bit strange to me!
    – k1eran
    Aug 18 at 18:31
  • 1
    Agreed with @Mohirl and @ Hearth — to my ear as a native UK speaker, this definitely doesn’t fit what the OP asks for. The home stretch doesn’t mean the part where the tension rises — on the contrary, it means the next stage, where the tension is dissipating because someone is becoming confident of success. In @ ermanen’s example of a football match, I would expect it to be used like Arsenal are coming into the home stretch now, meaning that Arsenal are ahead and the other team are unlikely to recover. I wouldn’t expect home stretch to be used while the match is tight.
    – PLL
    Aug 19 at 10:04
37

You can say

It's crunch time.
It's coming to the crunch.

Farlex has

crunch time

A critical period of time characterized by a heightened pressure to succeed, usually at or near the end of a given situation or undertaking.

A period when pressure to succeed is great, often toward the end of an undertaking.

Okay, we've got two minutes to tie the game—it's crunch time, guys!


Another suggestion is

We are coming to the moment of truth.

Farlex says

The moment or point at which some critical and decisive event, action, or test will occur.

We've been working on a prototype of this device for months. Now comes the moment of truth, when we test it in a real-world environment.

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    I like crunch a lot more than moment of truth (which conveys no sense of time-sensitivity to me.)
    – Wyck
    Aug 17 at 13:38
  • 3
    To me, crunch time is a period of time (for example the last month of a large project). The moment of truth is very different; it truly is a moment, the instant that defines success or failure. When crunch time ends and it's time to "flip the switch" to turn the system on and see if it works or not, that's the moment of truth
    – Flydog57
    Aug 17 at 13:56
  • 1
    I think Crunch Time works better in some respects than Home Stretch. Crunch time implies that there will be nose to the grindstone attentiveness to the project while crucial elements are resolved. Crunch time is not necessarily associated with the end of a project. If unexpected issues arise, crunch time can occur in the middle of a project. Home stretch, on the other hand, almost always refers to the end of something. Maybe my perception of the phrase is personal, but home stretch indicates one may coast to the finish. Home Stretch is the fresh air after Crunch Time.
    – EllieK
    Aug 17 at 14:30
  • 1
    @EllieK Sounds like we need a new term, crunch stretch!
    – ErikE
    Aug 17 at 17:33
  • "It's Showtime" also comes to mind.
    – Jim L.
    Aug 17 at 18:31
23

An idiomatic expression for that would be: down to the wire.

Were you to say, "I'm really taking it down to the wire," you'd be saying that you're getting quite close to the deadline, even possibly ill-advisably close or dangerously close -- so close that you very well may not get it done in time, especially if any unforeseen problem or unforeseen delay arises, as "taking it down to the wire" means you're leaving yourself no extra time at all for anything except exactly what you expect needs to be done at the fastest pace you're estimated capable of doing it in, which it's quite possible is an overestimation, another common cause of people taking it down to the wire missing their deadlines and why taking it down to the wire is so close to the end of a time-sensitive project that it can even end up being too close.

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    I've only ever heard this as "coming down to the wire".
    – Marthaª
    Aug 18 at 22:01
  • 2
    Just to be clear, "taking" is not a crucial part of the idiom. You could also say, like, "We're really down to the wire on this project" or something like "These delays have brought us down to the wire."
    – wjandrea
    Aug 19 at 18:02
11

What is an expression you can use for when you're getting close to the end of a time-sensitive project?

^ This is a bit ambiguous. Are you close to the end of the project or close to the end of the time constraint?


If you are at the end of the time constraint then:

I am in the eleventh hour

Eleventh hour

: the latest possible time before it is too late
// still making changes at the eleventh hour


If you are close to completing the project then:

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel

A light at the end of the tunnel

: a reason to believe that a bad situation will end soon or that a long and difficult job will be finished soon
// They are falling deeper into debt, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
// The work on our house has been going on for months, but we're finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.


If both then:

I am in the eleventh hour but can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

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5

You could use an expression from horse racing...

I am getting into the final furlong.

Where the final furlong is the last ⅛ mile (0.2 kilometer) up to the finish line...where things get tense, yet exciting.

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    In the U.S., a more common expression is "the home stretch" (also from horse racing). Aug 16 at 16:00
  • There are probably many other racing-related metaphors you could use (whether for athletes, horses, or cars), e.g. ‘entering the final straight’, or ‘the last lap’, or ‘approaching the wire_’, or ‘the end is in sight’.
    – gidds
    Aug 17 at 11:07
  • Or... the bell lap
    – Flydog57
    Aug 17 at 13:57
  • And nearing the finish line.
    – Barmar
    Aug 18 at 14:03
2

It’s showtime. The preparations and rehearsals are over. It’s time to put your work in front of the paying audience.

This concept of putting on a show is also used in the term show stopper. As in: “We’ve still got lots of problems, but no show stoppers. Let’s go ahead with the release”.

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    I'll mention that showstopper is a contranym, a word that is its own antonym - it can indicate either a catastrophic problem, or something incredibly positive. Its original use was a positive one, indicating a theatrical performance that received prolonged applause, literally stopping the show and preventing it from proceeding. Aug 17 at 17:02
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My personal favourite: https://english.stackexchange.com/a/593667

Down to the wire
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/down-to-the-wire
full of suspense especially : unsettled until the very end

https://knowyourphrase.com/down-to-the-wire The phrase down to the wire means that there is a tense situation in a competition where the outcome is only clear at or near the end.

It’s believed this expression originates from horse racing, but why? Because in horse races, a wire was often hung across the finish line in order to help determine the winner. This was especially useful in races that were very close towards the end. Thus, as the riders approached the finish line, they could be described as coming down to the wire, quite literally.

Different subject domains and the urgency or likelihood of meeting the deadline will lend themselves to different phrases.

I like It's crunch time however this implies a more imminent and yet less predictable deadline, which is similar to being on the chopping block.

  • crunch and chop are great verbs if you want to emphasise risk of failure to meet the deadline.
  • crunch time is also used to describe scenarios of high pressure that might not necessarily be associated with a deadline, it is more of a statement of the current situation and less about what might be coming.

To help put some of these phrases into context, I am guilty of over-using pep talks like this as we approach the end of a milestone or a competitive sport:

It's crunch time people! We're in the final straight but I don't want this one to come down to the wire!

in the Eleventh Hour is similar to the previous phrases, still with a close but not literally fixed deadline, without the same immediacy.

  • The butcher is probably not going to wait a whole hour before chopping...

moment of truth and It’s showtime both allude to a reveal, which is still exciting and inspires anticipation but is past or present tense of the deadline, so less about the preparation or the amount of time that is left.

I am sure there are other idioms that apply to this scenario but there are many metaphors at our disposal. The problem with a metaphor is that you need to be aware of your audience and be careful to use a comparison that the target audience is likely to be able to relate to.

When using a technical domain reference (like down to the short strokes) the message can be ambiguous to a reader who does not understand the domain, even if the reader can surmise the intent based on the common setup down to XXXX, the emphasis that you are trying to make about excitement and tension can be easily lost.

Sporting references are similar except that they tend to be geographically or culturally constrained or will have slightly different variations that might make it hard for the reader to relate to. The examples offered by @Davislor highlight some of these variations.

Overall it would appear that horse racing analogies are over represented in this scenario, but that is likely due to it being a relative standard sport across many English speaking regions that have traditionally involved all castes and classes of society in different ways for many centuries. So its generally a safer sporting reference to use as there is a high chance that an English reader would be able to relate to it.

2

"Squeaky bum time"

This is my personal favourite. Possibly invented by former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. It has also been used in Doctor Who. It fits perfectly the usage you are after. Time is running out, things are getting tense.

1

Another colorful idiomatic expression is down to the short strokes as it appears to be an allusion to painting. A painter starts painting on a clean canvas using large or broad strokes of the brush; but as the painting progresses, the strokes become shorter and finer where the painter fill the details into the painting. It reminds me of Bob Ross where he paints twigs and sticks at the end of his paintings, whether on the happy trees or within the nature that you can see in almost all his paintings.

Wiktionary also adds that it can be an allusion to golf or swimming; and provides the etymology and the definition as below:

Etymology: Possibly an allusion to painting, in which a painter typically finishes a work with short, careful, finishing strokes of the paint brush, or to golf, in which a player concludes each hole by making short strokes with a putter. In swimming competition, as a swimmer nearly reaches a wall to turn or to finish, the competitor might take a shorter stroke to start the turn smoothly, or to finish faster.

Adjective
down to the short strokes
(idiomatic) In the final steps or decisive phase of an undertaking, especially one which has been lengthy or laborious.

0

Merriam-Webster defines buzzer-beater as:

a shot successfully made just before a buzzer or horn sounds to signal the end of a period

especially : such a shot made to win a game just before the final buzzer or horn sounds

A closely-related expression is at the buzzer.

Some of many other metaphors from sports: bottom of the ninth (from baseball), inside the two-minute warning (American football), stoppage time (soccer), at the death (primarily British—American soccer fans seem familiar with it from British announcers, but be careful with this one), sudden death (many sports, but again, be careful that this is clear in context) or match point (tennis).

0

One other option is "getting into the short rows." This comes from farming; if you are plowing a field that is at all irregular, the last few rows will be shorter than the bulk of them. It's a good metaphor for all the little tasks that often have to be done as a project is wrapped up, and so it's not the same as "crunch time", which suggests that central tasks are being worked on right up to the end.

I would also distinguish "crunch time" from "the home stretch". The former has a stronger sense of pressure (after all, the word "crunch" is right there in the expression). The latter, for many people, focuses on being close enough to the end that you know you will finish. Of course, in a horse race that is a very high-pressure time since you want to win the race, not just finish, and maybe you're not even leading. But in practice, people often talk about being in the home stretch when a lot of the risky parts are done and they are feeling more confident.

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