How to Stay on the Slopes when You’re Dealing with an Avalanche

toomuchwork.jpgI’m not a complainer and I don’t like to whine, so before you read this post, recognize that I’m penning this because there are valuable lessons to pass on. I’m not writing this post for sympathy or for attention, like so many others do.

I’m writing it because you might be able to relate to my experience, and you might start thinking a little about how you handle the pressure when your workload becomes a mountain.

Where it All Began

James and the rest of Quebec may be buried under snow, but I’m buried under a different sort of avalanche.

We were doing one of our many daily check-ins (phone calls have now become as frequent as IMs or emails – thank you, Vonage). I found myself becoming irritated.

“What do we want to call this?” James asked the question thoughtfully. “We can’t use that name; it doesn’t have enough impact.”

Slumping over my desk, I pinched the bridge of my nose and squeezed my eyes shut. “I don’t care,” I answered. The words came unbidden, spilling out. I had worked ten straight hours that day, I had a wicked headache building up, and I’d had one too many cigarettes and too much coffee.

I hadn’t noticed the silence on the other end of the phone until James’ voice broke it. “Harry,” he said quietly, sounded just as tired as I felt, “Go to bed. It’s late. I should have told you to put that project down six hours ago.”

I looked at the clock. Where had the day gone? Had I accomplished anything? My to-do list barely had a dent in it, and the work just kept flooding in every time I turned around. “But…”

“No ‘buts’. When you say you don’t care about a project, it’s time to call it a day. I haven’t seen you work like this in months. You’re doing it again.”

That was my wake-up call. I blinked, snuffed out my cigarette and pushed the ashtray aside in disgust. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Get a Grip

What James referred to was an old habit of driving myself into the ground when there was too much work to do. Where had my ten-minute project method gone? Why was I obsessing like this?

I couldn’t leave the computer because my workload haunted me. There were blog posts to write, sites to fix, designs to create, our own projects clamoring for attention… and I felt like I hadn’t gotten anywhere.

Sometimes the Powers That Be make you pay attention to your own life. The Powers that gave me a shove the next day were those of my oh-so-reliable Internet provider. Once again, with incredible timing, the cable went out.

Of all mornings for the outage to happen, it couldn’t have been worse. My scheduled day involved projects that were 90% online.

I made the usual calls to James on the backup phone and then took a quick look at what I could work on offline. Well, I couldn’t do much. That left the option of writing.

Unfortunately, I was too distracted to put words together coherently. So, I settled for a cup of coffee, the couch, and an episode of Deadwood.

Attitude Adjustment

During this quiet blackout period of no communication, I realized I had to get back on track. I had been so busy lately that I hadn’t taken the time to organize my schedule and plan my days.

It’s easy to let scheduling properly slip. Like an alcoholic who thinks he can handle just a sip of booze after a long, hard stint of sobriety, I too thought I could fly through my days without a plan.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I grabbed my pen and clipboard off the coffee table. I wrote a list of what I needed to do. At first, the list was long and seemed overwhelming. The more I organized my thoughts on paper, the more I felt a weight lifting.

I started believing I could handle it all again. And I can, now that I have a clear plan.

Take the Time to Make Time

It’s not easy being in business. When times are slow, you pray for work. When you do have work, you pray for the flood to trickle down. It’s always feast or famine; there’s very rarely a middle ground.

When the deluge comes, you have to be as prepared as you are for the dry spells. Go ahead and accept the work coming in, but don’t run yourself into the ground.

When you take time to create a schedule, you’re taking some pressure off yourself. Do you realize how stressful and how much extra energy you burn while trying to remember everything you’re supposed to remember?

Write it down, put it aside and empty your mind for more important things.

I’m still buried under snow, in a manner of speaking, but I’ve remembered my survival lessons. While I wait for the rescue dogs to find me, with their casks of Canadian liquor around their necks, I won’t be frozen with panic stressing over everything that needs to be done.

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Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Great post Harry. You know what I found interesting, is that I had started a long time ago planning daily, at the beginning of my day for about 10 minutes. I was doing really well, and then started working on all kinds of diverse things – my writing, and other business plans.

    Then I stumbled across your 10 minute method, and it put me back on track. For some days, even the thought of planning was too much. I just fought fires.

    It’s okay to stumble. We can always get back up again.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the road ahead.

  2. I agree with Brett on this : planning is great until something comes up. And even if it’s hard to get back to normal after that, I believe that usually change is a good thing.

    I think we all need some periods of chaos to be creative and innovant. If we kept planning everything everyday, where would the fun and the surprise be ? For me, the trick is to let chaos and even sometimes a kind of lazyness take over, until I come up with a great idea and renewed energy. Then I start planning again to get my idea done asap.

    And as far as burnout goes, that usually happens while I’m trying to get my idea done. Overplanning can be as dangerous as no planning at all : I highly recommend not planning too much for one day, or at the end of it you’ll just feel lame and depressed as if you had accomplished nothing…

    Anyway, I have to go back to work now, this isn’t supposed to be my chaotic day, and it’s starting to turn into it !

  3. Yes, the life of a freelancer.

    Besides the feast or famine workload, there’s also the near-constant worry of cashflow — “I need to maintain a certain amount in the bank, JUST in case the break between (paying) gigs is too big” or “I need to save up for that XXX I promised the kids”, etc.

    The good thing is the the non-paying (read: personal) projects seem endless, resulting in what you wrote about, Harry.

    Both good and bad: My business partner and I are always busy, always have things “cooking”, talking everyday almost, honing our craft, and hopefully the payout will come in the future.

    In the meanwhile, it can be overwhelming, and often is. But then, we tell each other to take a personal day, that life isn’t just about the business.

    It’s really great to have a good partner, right, Harry?

    Nez’s last blog post..Dial ?M? for Blogger

  4. I feel your pain, friend. (See my post from last night. LOL) I am the avalanche queen. I procrastinate many hours of the day away through online distractions; then at about 3am the stress of reality comes crumbling down around me. Saturday night one of my neighbors (I’m in an apartment) came knocking to ask if anything was wrong, because he’d heard me yelling at my laptop. When the neighbors get alarmed that there might be a crime happening because I’m shouting at inanimate objects, it’s time for a break. I took most of Sunday off. And for most of Monday I felt pretty good. What day is it now? :-)

  5. @Brett: The 10 Minute Method is priceless. I can’t say how many times that’s saved my sanity. And the best part is, you can apply it to *anything*.

    @Joohliah: Very true. I can take the chaos once I get rolling and then I thrive on it – but only for short periods of time. The hardest part about the chaos is when I’m coming off of a period of inactivity. The second hardest part is when all the chaos suddenly stops and I don’t know what to do with myself.

    @Nez: *grunts* Business partner good!

    And so are screw-off days. *glances at calendar* In fact, I think I’m due for one of those very soon…

    @Amy: OMG…My modem catches unbelievable hell when the internet goes out. I’m surprised the neighbors here don’t call the cops. The cats scatter and I don’t see them for the rest of the day. James usually gets a call around 8 or so Vegas time which starts: “The f**k’n net’s out again! What the hell am I paying the cable company for anyway? And of course they can’t get their butts over here for a week…!”

  6. @ Brett: I know that “what the f**k am I gonna do with myself” feeling, though it hasn’t happened in a while… usually a client answers that question for me :P

    And it’s true that the roller coaster thing only works for short periods of time… but I haven’t found a better way of getting to work yet :(

    About modem and inanimate objects : they usually help us decide when we should take a break. I find that listening to them and doing something totally different is very productive (or very beneficial in either way) most of the time.

    Oh, and I think I need an associate, I have no one to call in the morning to complain to. Wait, I actually complain to my husband… Ok, I REALLY need to find an associate or I’m gonna loose a husband ^^

  7. @Joohliah: You ride a rollercoaster to work? COOL! You know, you could always complain to your cat. If he (or is it a she?) is going to give you grief and prevent you from working, the least you could do is give a little of that back. :)

  8. @ Harry (I mixed up in the previous post, it was for you too ^^): it’s a she… I could inded complain to her once in a while. But then I’d risk waking her up and having to deal with her for hours… tough decision !

  9. Oh golly, can I ever relate! I also have the opposite problem of creating frenzy in the slow times. I’m learning to cherish the occasional breather (like Holidays) to re-energize and refresh instead of making myself crazy. Thanks for ranting and please feel free to borrow my shovel. :-)

  10. @Karen: Was I ranting? *looks up* Guess I was. Thanks for the shovel, but the desert’s warming up these days and the snow is quickly melting.

  11. @ Joohliah: yeah, to second Harry, I want to commute with you :) woo hoo rollercoaster!!!

    @ Amy: I guess I’m your partner in procrastination crime, I’m sure I am at least partly responsible for you not getting too much sleep last night (Gig4Hire1969@aol.com at your service!)

    @ Harry: the 10-minute method helped me clean up the kitchen last night (and it actually only took 8 minutes, so I scored there!), and I had a 10-minute beer that relaxed me enough to get a lot of my thumbnails uploaded to my new blog page while I was chatting with Amy…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the road ahead.

  12. @Harry, your ranting is actually so nice we could call it entertaineranting. :-)

  13. @Brett – You’re killing me with that email account. LOL Oh, and no worries, I’d have found someone else to chat with had you not been around. After you crashed out, I still monkeyed around for hours, even without anyone to talk to. Then I sat up watching Seinfeld (including the desk napping one). I am a disaster of my own making. :-)

  14. @Brett: Hmmm…the 10 Minute Beer…oh, the potential there.

    @Amy: yeah, you would have been bothering me instead! ;)

  15. @Karen: Yup, that’s me, Mr. Nice Guy. Couldn’t be mean even if I wanted to. Unless you really piss me off, but that’s another story altogether.

  16. Mr. Nice Guy meet Mrs RahRah! If you were ever mean, I’d be right there with pom poms cheering you back to your old sunny self. ;-) However, don’t think you’ll be needing em my friend, you are pretty darn nice.

  17. @Karen: Finally! The Nice Guy gets the Cheerleader!

  18. Took me five minutes to stop laughing long ago to type. Nice and with a great comeback too! ROFL!

  19. @ Amy: I’d register it right now but the firewall here at work won’t let me connect to AOL to do it… ;) if you hadn’t ordered me to go to bed LOL I’d have stayed up with you!

    I think if I have a chance I might do my own take on the desk napping Seinfeld episode… the hot sun is pouring in the window right now, and the coffee is losing the battle… (yawn)

    @ Harry: we could patent that one. Like the 20-Minute Workout, only with beer. In 10 minutes. And much less exercise (just one elbow). Hmm… I wonder if old people would like it (refer to yesterday’s post). I know my dad would go for it.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the road ahead.

  20. @Karen: I’m on a roll today :D

    @Brett: For that you’d have to use two full mugs of beer, alternating sets between arms. Balance, my friend.

  21. @Brett, alternate standing on one leg and you’ve really got the burn going!
    @ Harry, you’re always on a roll it’s what keeps me coming back! :-)

  22. @Brett – Harry told me to go to bed, so I just passed the request on to you. ;-) I’m on aol. I’ll hook you up if you want. No firewalls here!!

    @Harry – You, and James, and probably three or four other people…. just to keep up with Brett! I’m pretty sure Brett has three or four clones that keep up for him. I picture his kids lined up at little baby laptops as he dictates, “Tell her this, tell him that, respond to that post, reply to that email.”

  23. I know the feeling, Harry! My stack of homework looks suspiciously like that picture…

    Ever since I’ve come back from vacation, I’ve been a little off. I think I’m going to try your planning method and hopefully, I’ll get something done! Either that, or my list will be so long, that it’ll provide kindling for the fire that I’ll build to consume my mass of textbooks….

    RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Update

  24. *whispers to Brett* Amy’s on to our Clone Army.

    @Amy: Good thing no one told you about the new Death Star or we’d have to kill you.

    D’oh! Did I just say that out loud? Oh well, it was nice knowing you…

  25. @ Harry: well, either that or alternate sets on each side, that way you work the obliques… heh heh

    @ Amy: maybe you should do that, email me the password later (the clones are still hatching – don’t tell everyone I have the blondies posting, they’ll arrest me for running a blog commenting sweat shop… :) )

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the road ahead.

  26. @ Harry: I don’t think we’ll have to kill her, she’s one of us… she doesn’t sleep, you know. ;)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the road ahead.

  27. Where is Kelly today? Last I read yesterday, she was off sewing a miniskirt for the James voodoo doll. Speaking of… hey- where’s James?

    *gets paranoid Harry’s on a killing streak and runs away*

  28. @Amy: *quickly pushes the M1D under the desk and swats the empty casings off the desk* Um…James? He’s…uh…out.

    Actually, he’s enjoying the many perks of being the front man. While I get to ride the bike in gorgeous 70 degree weather to entertain the occasional client here in Vegas, he has the joy of hitching up the sled dogs and hiking out across the wilderness for business meetings.

  29. Yes, where is Kelly? Where is James, not a peep or tweet from him today? He was having a bad day yesterday, is he hiding today?

  30. Poor guy. Hope he didn’t wear the skirt.

  31. The question on my mind isn’t, “did Little Pen wear the skirt”, but rather, did Little Pen go commando under the skirt… (okay, time for me to go home soon, I’m losing it)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the road ahead.

  32. @Brett: If Little Pen is a Scotsman, you better believe he went commando!

    …cripes, I’ve been at this computer far too long today.

  33. Little Pen Says: “It’s called a KILT!

  34. Harold, go take a nap. You’re starting to sound as nutty as I do. LOL

  35. @Amy: Yes’m. If you say so, I guess James won’t mind. *trudges off to take a nap*

  36. I’ll keep the kids in line. *gets the whip and grins*

  37. @ Amy – about your neighbors coming over to see if you were ok. That’s like the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. I have a computer degree and so many people ask me why I’m not a a programmer . . . I think you understand! I have yet to meet a computer that likes me.

    @ Harry – loved the post and I’m sure most, if not all, of us can relate. We all preach you should “do what you love.” This is great for all the reasons we all know, but has anyone really sat down to think of the downsides of doing what you love?
    Obsession, headaches, long long long hours, never stopping to smell the roses, family turmoil, not getting enough time to watch Star Trek? ;)

    See, what you were forced to do was stop – and smell the roses.

    And you’re right – the Ten Minute Method can apply to anything. I use it for cleaning the house. Not a lot gets cleaned today, but in a week it’s looking pretty good when otherwise I would have never touched it because the one task as a whole seemed so daunting.

    @ Karen – maybe a moose ate him (James).

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Negotiating: It Never Hurts To Ask

  38. @ Harry – oh and by the way, did you get a chance to see my site’s new logo? I think you know the guy who created it
    *John points at Harry*

    Crap. Is he down for the count already? Ah, he’ll see it when he gets up. He did an awesome job for me.

    @ Amy – Something about a girl with a whip that’s cool!

    @ James – Welcome back. Yeah I have a headache over 2 guys who now hate each other and feel the need to explain themselves to me over the phone. I really don’t care, but I’m nice so I listen.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Negotiating: It Never Hurts To Ask

  39. @ Amy – curious, what did the police report say? “Crazy woman with rabbits got in a fight with her computer.” hehehe.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Negotiating: It Never Hurts To Ask

  40. Yeah – we keep Harry hard at work.

    @ Harry – VERY nice day out. Around 12:30 I took my son for a walk and let him play in the park for awhile. It’s quiet while the kids are all at school and I just let my mind wonder to whatever it wonders to.

    For me, a good refresh (other than sleeping) is either getting out for about an hour and going for a walk like I did or taking a shower and then going back to work.

    As for the pic. Yes, great job – I am so pleased with it. As we chat I’ve got Frontpage fired up and am having to replace this stupid little header code in each of my web pages which contain the wrong header size (and thus overrides my stylesheet). What can I say – I didn’t design the template. But I find I’m having to fix it here and there.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Negotiating: It Never Hurts To Ask

  41. @ Amy – lol. I love that picture. I was thinking of using it with a title like “Guerrilla Marketing Ideas” or something. If you scroll down some, you’ll see I’ve been liking pictures that are a bit humorous.

    I’ve got some others coming up.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Negotiating: It Never Hurts To Ask

  42. James drove four hours round trip to the city so that he could shmooze on the 10th floor with one of the largest payment processor companies and a web technology firm about the copywriting they need done. I was impressively smooth and had a great lunch on them.

    I’m also very tired, have a headache, need a glass of wine, have uber-email to answer and missed a great convo in there.

    But it was good that you missed my presence :) Thanks all!

    (and welcome to Jooliah!! YAY!)

  43. And see how I killed the thread for you so Harold could take a nap? ;-)

  44. @John – the police were once called over a domestic disturbance… “No, Officer, it’s just me and my pet rabbits” — bad things happen when my computer doesn’t play nice. ;-) Needless to say, I have no computer degree. LOL

  45. @John: I wasn’t sleeping! I was outside with the kitties. Nice day here, huh?
    You put the logo up? I’ have to go look for sure.

  46. @John: Whoa! That banner kicks ass! What a difference!

  47. John – LOL. There were no charges, so no report. As I told Harry earlier, around here the police are called over all kinds of b.s., such as “someone parked in my lot without a pass.” So the police just sort of shake their heads at this point. Of course, at the time I was morbidly embarrassed. The walls here really are very thin, but I was really worked up and screaming profanities at the computer that time.

    I’m thinking we’re all the ones who have pushed Harry off the avalanche. He’s been working on something for each of us it seems. :-|

  48. John again – I like the banner. I don’t know what the old one looked like, but this one is very nice. Also like the gun-yielding cat picture. That loaded for me before the banner did. ;-)

    Amy’s last blog post..10 Steps to Freelanceaholic Recovery

  49. “Never say NO to Fluffy” is right, holy crap, that’s awesome… :)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the road ahead.

  50. Yeah when that quote came to me I fell in love with it.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Negotiating: It Never Hurts To Ask

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