Sunday, February 3, 2008

How to Avoid A Descent into Madness

I recently started a 7 week stretch of working insane hours to meet some deadlines. Under normal circumstances I leave the house around 6:20 am and get home about 6:30 pm, but this is more like getting home between 9 and 11 each night, 4 nights a week.

Usually our weekend is spent running around - with a large house to maintain, errands to run, and cooking. Now I'm facing weekends in the office. And yet, my life is still going on.

Thank heavens it is winter. At least there isn't the garden to worry about.
I've done this before, as I do project work, which is pretty cyclical. And I've learned that there are ways to minimize the fall into chaos, or at least decrease your rate of fall. The slower the descent into madness, the less money you spend - on eating out, parking, emergency this, I forgot that, and so on.

So here's what I've learned about keeping things under control financially and otherwise when things get a little nuts. I think these rules apply to many scenarios - work chaos, a new baby, and so on.

1. Acknowledge that, at some point, all attempts to maintain control will fail, and the chaos will win. It's good to know this up front, so that you are less surprised when, at some point you find yourself slightly wild-eyed, subsisting on a diet of ho-hos and condiments from the back of the fridge.

2. Start with everything as orderly as possible so that the chaos gets delayed a little. This means a spotless house, stocked pantry and freezer, all the laundry done, and, if possible, meals cooked and lunches packed for as far out as possible. Even clothes set out for a few days, or even a few weeks.

3. Make lists. Pick one or two things that must get done a day to keep your personal life running. This may be paying a couple critical bills, or dropping off the drycleaning, or calling to get your oil tank refilled. Whatever those one or two things are, pay attention to them, and them alone.

4. Make sure critical items are always put in the places they belong. This way when you are completely sleep deprived, overwhelmed and feeling like you are a special guest star in your own real-life version of "Groundhog Day" you know where your wallet, your keys, and your cell phone are.

5. When you have some downtime, split it. Half to a task that has been put aside, half to relaxing. Trust me, you'll think better if you relax occasionally.

6. Think small. Don't think "Oh, I have to clean the house, I haven't touched it in 5 weeks". Think instead "Let me dust that table over there, and water those 3 plants". For one thing, there's a likelihood that you might get the latter task done.

7. Keep up with the things that are important, and let the rest go. If you decide that having the bed made so that it's comfy to crawl into every night and packing your lunch every day are what is important, do those things. Just those things. You choose what matters, and then just move on from the rest.

8. Plan for things to be a bit more expensive. If you are up all night with a newborn, or working 80+ hours a week, you are probably going to incur some expenses for take out, and in other areas. It's okay, just try to keep it down as much as possible.
9. Remember: this too shall pass. You will get through it, even if it took 73 boxes of ho-hos to do it.
And the next time, you'll know in advance to stockpile ho-hos.

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