Last week I wrote about habits we need to build and use each time we start major projects. This week I’m looking at the other end, habits we need to use as a major project draws to a close. That’s a fancy way of saying, surviving deadlines.
“I am so grateful to my husband/wife/spouse/partner/kids for learning to survive on cold pizza/respecting my closed office door/being able to amuse themselves when I was on a deadline.”
In one form or another, I’ve seen this sentence in dozens of book acknowledgments.
That word has a wonderful way of concentrating the attention. We know it’s coming; in many cases we know the exact date it’s coming. Here’s what we need to do to get ready.
Once more, get enough sleep
Just like last week, the first thing we need is enough sleep. Those of us who have faced deadlines are now rolling on the floor laughing because we know that sleep is the first deadline casualty. Just let us survive on three hours of sleep a night for the next two week’s and then, I’ll go to bed and sleep for a week.
The body doesn’t work like that. Research has shown that we can’t recover lost sleep, but we can put deposits into a sleep bank by pre-sleeping. So if we know or even have an inkling that a deadline looms in a couple of weeks, we need to go to bed an hour early or get up an hour later, or take a nap during the day. Every extra hour of sleep that we rack up goes into the sleep bank for withdrawal at deadline time.
Deadline preparation includes pre-everything. Pre-shop for personal items we don’t want to run out of at ten o’clock at night. Pre-cook and freeze meals. Pre-make a list of no-cook/little cook meals and post it on the refrigerator door. Most of all, prepare our friends.
Good, healthy relationships are ones we can take to the bank
Good people, in healthy relationships, love to help. Good people in healthy relationships may have no clue how to really be helpful, so we might have to prime their pumps.
Who do we know who is a good person, with whom we have a healthy relationship? ” Be honest. If we love our sister dearly, but there are issues, deadline time is not the time to rely on her for support. If we have a friend who resembles a remora (a sharksucker fish with an appendage to take a firm hold against the skin of larger marine animals), a voicemail message a la Jim Rockford, may be in our best interests.
“Hi, it’s Sharon. The Wicked Witch of the West and I are on a horrendous deadline until the end of October. Call the witch’s castle after Halloween and we’ll do coffee.” Tip: set our available date a week later than we think it will be. Maybe my deadline is really October 22, but I don’t have to tell anyone that. And I know I will want to use the extra time to decompress.
When we’ve whittled the list down our list to a three to five good, healthy people, ask each of them for one specific thing. “I’m heading for this horrendous deadline. Could you
- bake me one of your wonderful apple pies?”
- call me once a day for the next two weeks and leave an encouraging message on my voice mail?”
- go to the library for me once a week and leave the trashiest romance novels you can find in my mailbox?”
- come to my house Tuesday at 12:30 and force me to go with you for a quick lunch at Gobbles?”
- go walking with me for a half-hour every afternoon at 5:00 o’clock?”
The big five for working under pressure
Excuse me for a minute, while I take off my writer’s hat and put on my nursing cap. Yes, I still have one. It makes me look like a sailor on shore leave. Here’s the straight gen on five healthy deadline habits
- For every cup of coffee or tea we drink, drink one cup of water, too. At the very least, this forces us to take bathroom breaks more often. Also, even 2% dehydration, an amount too small to make us thirsty, decreases our ability to concentrate and be creative.
- Every hour, work for 50 minutes, and then get up and move for 10. Set a timer if necessary as a reminder.
- Nibble on raw vegetables, whole grain crackers, fruit, and nuts. If allergies are a concern, find healthy alternatives that provide fibre and, above all, complex carbohydrates, the kind that metabolize slowly. 30 minutes of brain activity lowers brain glucose level by 2 to 5 grams, which we need to replace every 30 minutes. And, no, we can’t save it up by working 6 hours without nourishment, and then eating a few cookies. Energy in has to balance energy out.
- Some people write with music in the background, some people don’t. In any case, listen to music every day. This does not mean blaring rock. Go for something soothing, inspirational, maybe even mystic.
- Turn off the television. Really off. Leave it off.
“Background TV is an ever-changing audiovisual distractor that disrupts a child’s ability to sustain various types of play. [It] is potentially a chronic environmental risk factor affecting most American children.” ~Marie Evans Schmidt, research associate, Center on Media and Child Health. Boston’s Children’s Hospital, July 2008. If television is bad for children, it’s gotta be bad for the creative child in all of us.
Above all, remember that deadlines are temporary phenomena, like tornadoes and strobe lighting. We will get by with a little help from our friends.
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” ~Douglas Adams, English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)
I hope you’ll be back next week, Tuesday, September 16, for Write the Novel — Flash Symbols, micro-details that, like tertiary plots, add zest and sparkle to a story.
Next Thursday, September 18, we’ll finish up the habits series with Habits for Ending. Far too many of us celebrate far too little when we finish a major project.