Surviving October

The past week has been a bit odd here in Dani-land.

Coming off a show is a strange experience in and of itself. I don’t feel the need to say more on the matter since you’ve already had your fill of my prattling about post-show depression (which, in my head, often becomes “post-part-um depression”; with “part” being a play on it meaning as a synonym for “role”… har har). Coming off a show and diving into three weeks of hell because you’ve been leaving work to pile while you survived tech and performance with lingering deadlines hanging Damocles-like over your head is a special kind of hell.

I’ve been scrambling to re-assemble the pieces of my life and tame the piles which have grown on my desk. Tomorrow (or, I suppose, today as it brinks on midnight as I write this) I give my big semester presentation (on the history of Magic and Magicians which, while it has been fun to research, has presented its own breed of historiographical troubles). After that, I have a week and a half to prep for ASTR (during which I will also be putting the cast of Measure for Measure through what I’m calling “Shakespeare boot camp” to ensure that they all have some agility with the text before the Director sinks her teeth into rehearsal), then a week after that to put together some written work for the Measure playbill, and I still need to keep up on my class reading and research and pitch two disparate final papers to two disparate professors.

It’s no small wonder I’ve become a little bit of a frazzled nut case.

In my MA, this was my idea of a “day off”

I’ve been fondly referring to October as “hell month” and counting the days until I can get out of hell free and roll downhill towards the semester’s end in hopes that I don’t hit some snag or bump which causes me to careen wildly off course. So far, outlook is positive for a relatively smooth trip, but the skies change every day so stay tuned.

I have previously blogged about the techniques which I turn to to help myself get through times of normal stress loads. I will, however, take this moment to discuss what happens when those techniques erode. Anyone who has been through a nightmarish schedule knows that there are times to stress and there are times when you feel like you’re being torn apart by rabid tigers while carnivorous spider-monkeys do the macarena on your masticated corpsicle. For me, October has become a time of the latter and, in that regard, let’s talk about surviving October.

Here are some things that may help you survive your own flavor of the spider-monkey/tiger paradigm.

Thing One: Make a list. It’s often helpful to me to just sit and write out, in bulleted form, all the things that I need to accomplish. It helps me to understand how much I really need to do on any given day and, in so doing, helps me understand how best to plan my time. When can I do small ten-minute tasks? When do I need to block off hours for the big stuff? Sometimes I make a list the night before a long day of work just so I can sleep better knowing that I won’t forget anything because I took the time to write it all down. Oh, and forgetting things? I’m less likely to do that when it’s all listed in front of me. Also, I get the greatest feeling when I can cross something off the list. Built-in reward mechanism.

Thing Two: One thing at a time. My therapist perhaps said it best; “no matter how busy the bee is, it can still only attend to one flower at a time”. There ya have it folks; it doesn’t matter how well you think you can multi-task, you are still an old-model desktop lacking a parallel processor. One thing at a time.

Thing Three: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Except replace “fear” with “worry”. Worrying does no practical good. It does not behoove you to waste your time and/or energy worrying how or when something is going to get done. If you are taking a break, leave your work at your desk, take a few deep breathes, and brush up on your favorite meditation technique. Find some way to get your mind off the work mountains. If you absolutely cannot take a break because you are worrying, then go back to work and get something done. It will make you sleep sounder. Hell, that’s why it’s midnight on a Monday and I’m sitting at my computer blogging instead of snuggling in my warm bed with a book and a mug of tea.

Thing Four: Conserve your energy for the things that well and truly require it. Just like worry will suck that energy right out of you, so will a great many other items on your list of scheduling baggage. Cut out the things that will take and give nothing back. It’s like running a marathon; you need to make sacrifices to get to the end. I haven’t been to the gym in a month because October has been too intense to give up eight to ten hours of my week at the iron church. The gym is a lifestyle. The gym gods will forgive me (though I may hate myself for a week after I do go back).

Thing Five: Work hard. When you do work, close all your safari (…or firefox… or I.E.)

These days, my desk is more likely to look like this.  Though you can see that I am pointedly ignoring some of my own advice.

windows. Silence your cell phone (or turn it off… or to iOS6’s handy dandy new “do not disturb” setting). Don’t answer the door. You will get more done if you prevent yourself from being distracted. I find that, when I’m well and truly in the zone, the tiniest interruption can pull me right out of it and, for every thirty seconds I spend in the real world dealing with something that cropped up outside of my work, it takes me about five minutes to get back to where I was before the interruption. Cut this off at the head and remove the temptation to do anything but get your hands dirty with your research.

Thing Six: When you’re done, you’re done. Be honest with yourself. Can you go a little longer? Will it be productive? If the answer is yes, then read another chapter (or write another page, or research for another hour). If the answer is no, put it down and walk away. You’re done. You are not helping yourself by pushing yourself past your limits and, in fact, you may create a mess that takes more time to clean up later. Note: this tactic only works if you can well and truly push yourself to your limits and be strict with yourself about them. If you stop just because you’re a little distracted or you would rather be watching your netflix, it will not help you get your work done. Push through the moments of weakness, and know what you’re actually at your wall and when you’re just being a weenie.

Thing Seven: Take care of yourself. Water, sleep, vegetables, gym if you can manage it. If you are not feeling your best, you will not work your best. When I have the most work is when I need the most sleep and, if I don’t get it, my work suffers. Make time to take care of your basic human essentials, and ensure that you are as comfortable and healthy as you can be.

Thing Eight: Don’t deny yourself what you need to get the job done; be that coffee, a shower, a walk, or a cupcake. If it’s really crunch time, this won’t last for eternity. You could probably use the extra pampering if you’re working as hard as you should be.

And on that note, I should to bed. Goodnight, dear readers! Here’s hoping that your crunch-times are as short and painless as possible!

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