Iâ€™ve been a full-time grad school student for the last eight months. Itâ€™s been wonderful and exhausting. Iâ€™ve loved school since kindergarten and Iâ€™ve been looking forward to grad school for nearly a decade. The process of getting accepted and enrolled happened in a whirlwind and I didnâ€™t have any time to plan for it. I started school in March (the autumn semester here in Australia) and hadnâ€™t even finished my U.S. taxes, so I started out behind already in terms of time.
And nothing really changed.
I stayed barely one step ahead of the slashing scythe of time the whole year. With three weeks left to go and three more assignments due â€“ and Australian taxes due by the weekend! â€“ I can tell you some things Iâ€™ve learned. I hope they help you prepare for NaNo or your next writing push.
Know yourself. Do you need 6-7 hours a night? Then donâ€™t go below 6. I am a happy camper with 8 1/2 hours plus time to lie in bed before I get up. (I like to talk to God about my day and mentally map it out.) So I try not to get less than 7, and I donâ€™t get less than 6 hours two nights in a row. When I know Iâ€™m going to have a timing issue with sleep, I try to plan around it. On nights Iâ€™m out late for class or a meeting, I try to make sure the next morning is not a running morning. (On running days I get up at least an hour earlier.)
Know how you sleep and what helps you sleep better or worse. Iâ€™ve found I donâ€™t sleep well if Iâ€™ve eaten in the last couple hours before bed. If I drink too much liquid in the last 4-6 hours of the day, I will often wake up and then rarely sleep well again after the bathroom break. (I now try to drink my many glasses of water from the time I wake up until about 3pm. Iâ€™m a big water drinker, but itâ€™s bad for sleeping well.) The stress of school hasnâ€™t helped either. A nutritionist at the local pharmacy suggested some natural herbal sleep aids. Theyâ€™ve done wonders!
I used to hate exercising. I donâ€™t know why. I really donâ€™t know why Iâ€™ve come to love running! 🙂 But here is a very real example for you. John and I ran a half marathon in September. We wanted a few days break from our running schedule, so we took it. Company came and we got lazy for another 10 days. Then it seemed to rain every morning that we planned to run. Before we knew it, a month had passed before we went out again. It was no surprise that we did terribly those first few days. What was a surprise was how much better I felt within a day or two after getting back into my regular running routine. I had more mental and physical energy to pour into my work.
If you exercise, keep at it. If you used to, but donâ€™t do it anymore because you donâ€™t have time, get back into it. If you hate the very word, do some floor exercises or at least stretches every day. This will help you stay strong while you spend time at your computer. And remember to stretch every 20-30 minutes. I set my kitchen timer this week and did a different stretch every 20 or so minutes. Each time took about 1 minute or less. Not that much time out of your day! I think youâ€™ll see it has lasting positive effects.
This is my biggest weakness. (Have suggestions? Please share them!) The only thing I know for sure is that if I start the day with eggs or a protein shake, everything is better. I donâ€™t have as many cravings and I find it somewhat easier to skip the sugary foods in my pantry. And I feel like I can concentrate better. But if I start with my favorite jaffa muffin from Brumbyâ€™s (an orange and chocolate chip muffin from my favorite bakery), I seem to crave sugars and breads all day.
When I asked the nutritionist about something to help me sleep, I told her about my life and stress and asked if she had any advice. She not only suggested the protein shake in the morning, or sprinkling the protein powder on healthy cereal, but she said Iâ€™d be better off keeping some fruits and nuts nearby for snacking. Iâ€™ve been eating prunes and dried apricots and almonds and peanuts for snacks lately. Again, big difference. Not only is it better for my body than sugary snacks and cookies, but my snack-craving fades after Iâ€™ve eaten a couple handfuls. Then Iâ€™m back to focusing on my work again. (One new favorite for breakfast or snacks â€“ Special K with Chocolatey Flakes. Mmm.)
If youâ€™re like me, and you work until youâ€™re starving hungry and then have no self-control until youâ€™ve put something in your stomach to ease the hunger pains â€“ put a bag of your favorite dried fruit or nuts or whatever on your desk. Keep a package there â€“ airtight so you donâ€™t get bugs â€“ and remind yourself to reach for it any time, guilt-free!
Rewards for NOT Doing It
We often talk about rewards as part of your writing routine. But it’s usually ways to reward yourself for your accomplishments. Iâ€™ve gotten into the habit lately of rewarding myself for what Iâ€™m not doing. If I donâ€™t check email or do anything else in the morning, just sit down and do my work until lunch time, I reward myself with TV during lunch. My big weakness is doing other little things before the big thing that needs to be done in my day. (Lately, homework, but also putting writing first.) Then the big and most important thing doesnâ€™t get completed until late in the day because I started it later than I should have/wanted to. (Or worse, it doesnâ€™t get completed that day.)
When I go on my writerâ€™s retreat this weekend, talking is going to be the biggest problem (and not just for me!). I have to think of something not-unhealthy to reward myself for not talking during our designated writing times. Giving myself cookies as a reward will only undermine my new goal for the summer to lose weight. 🙂 Iâ€™m still working on the rewards for changing my â€œbadâ€ behaviors. Throw out some ideas if you have any. The idea is to sabotage your self-sabotaging behaviors.
One reward I decided on months ago was to do some teaching during the summer. I’ve been so busy with homework that I haven’t been able to do a lot of fun stuff lately. I’m excited to tell you that I’m teaching an online class in January – Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer. Look over the outline and sign up. We’ll start 2011 by creating better writing routines together!
Kitty Bucholtz is the co-founder of Routines for Writers, a web site dedicated to helping writers write more. She writes romance novels, light urban fantasy novels for adults and young adults, and magazine articles. She is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing program at University of Technology, Sydney.
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