Survival Tips For Busy People
I'm writing this from a little apartment in Mexico City, where I've just woken up to my first day of a 4 week vacation around this amazing country. I've just spent a week in LA and Vegas, and while it feels like I have been away for much longer, it still feels surreal to be on holiday. Maybe this is due in part to jetlag, but mostly because my mind is still well and truly stuck in work mode. I feel guilty at the prospect of being away from my business for so long and for my work flow to suddenly come to a halt when I'm so used to riding that momentum from one job to the next.
I think it may take some time to shake this mindset off and decompress from what has been a truly insane few months. From July to October it feels like I literally did not stop once or come up for air. I barrelled through project after project, juggled multiple insane deadlines, and pulled countless all-nighters to get stuff done (something I hate doing), all while working my day job 3 days per week. I literally feel exhausted just from writing that! Now, I'm not attempting to glorify this extreme workload situation, nor would I ever want to promote busyness as some kind of badge of honour. This scenario is just a reality for a lot of freelancers, or those balancing design work with other life commitments. Sometimes shit just gets crazy!
This is a fake ceiling in an underground mall at Caesars Palace. It doesn’t sound like it would be a relaxing place but it was surprisingly serene!
As I have previously mentioned, craft-based design is a niche job with a laborious workload that tends to fluctuate a lot. Sometimes I don't have that much on and can be a bit more chill about producing work, but other times I get inundated with great design opportunities that I really want to take on, and no matter how organised I am, how we'll I've managed client expectations, or how fast I work, I all of a sudden find myself with a bunch of big projects on the go, all with competing deadlines.
This is when I slip into what I call "Deadline Mode", which can kind of feel like a survival challenge. Deadline Mode involves one or more of the following things:
- Abandonment of regular sleeping, eating, washing laundry, seeing friends, hydration, grocery shopping, exercise, free time, and most other daily human tasks
- Extreme swings in mindset from motivation, determination and enthusiasm to stress, frustration, panic and a whole spectrum of other feelings
- Emotional breakdowns
- Binge eating (hate you/love you Uber Eats)
- Binge watching of Law & Order SVU (let it be known that this is actually a positive, not a negative)
- So much craft mess, with no time to clean it up so I'm basically living in craftermath for the entire deadline period
- Numerous other gross things that adversely affect my mental health
I know I can say no to jobs to try to minimise this happening, and I know this way of working is very problematic but it does seem rife across the creative industry, and I often wonder why it is so common. Perhaps this forms part of a greater conversation about why so many of us encounter this way of working so regularly; why we let it happen, and how this could be related to the bigger picture of how creatives are valued; and how there can be a discrepancy between demand for quality output vs the time (and often money) offered in return. (I touched on these issues a little but in my recent interview on the Never Not Creative podcast.
We visited the Seven Magic Mountains installation in Las Vegas. Very inspirational and a great way to get into holiday mode!
Perhaps this ("Deadline Mode") forms part of a greater conversation about why so many of us encounter this way of working so regularly; why we let it happen, and how this could be related to the bigger picture of how creatives are valued.
Regardless of why this is happening to me (and believe me I'm working on trying to shift the way I work to avoid it) the reality is, sometimes things get stressful, and when that happens it's good to have an arsenal of tools you can use to combat it. After many Deadline Mode experiences I've learned a lot about the way I work, and how to minimise stress as much as possible so these experiences don't overwhelm me or get in the way of me getting the job done. Like everything, this is a work in progress for me, but I thought I'd share some of my current survival tips in the hope that they can be useful for you when you're next feeling under the pump. Here goes!
- Trust that it will all work out
- Manage expectations
- Set boundaries and stick to them
- Learn from past experiences
- Use lists as your lifeline
Stress for me can often occur when I have a million to-do’s floating around in my head and no clear idea of how or when they are going to get done. So lists are everything to me! You might not be a list writer but I encourage you to give it a try because they can really help with time management. I like to map out my entire timeline before a busy period begins and assign tasks to each work day. Getting it all out on paper allows me to sort of switch into autopilot and just methodically start working through the list like some kind of craft robot. The key to lists though is being flexible with them and open to the reality that you may need to shuffle tasks around and might not get everything done each day and that's ok. Also, it's REALLY satisfying to cross something off a list, right?! Use a fat red pen, it feels even better!
Sometimes just the simple knowledge that you've overcome seemingly impossible situations can reassure you that you are capable of doing it again this time. You got this!
With a bit more of this, I think I can finally start to relax…
- Make yourself comfortable
- Keep it tidy
- Move your body
- Pre-prep meals
- Take a break
- Practice self care
So there's my top tips for ya. Stress is inevitable, and also a natural part of life, and it's unrealistic to try to eradicate it from our lives completely. I think we should instead figure out ways to at least minimise it a bit and work around it so that it doesn't hinder us from doing our best creative work.