I’m right in the middle of my busy grantwriting season (yes, I understand the irony of posting to the blog for the first time in six months while I’m drowning in work!) and this round, in my 10th or so year of full-time grantwriting, I have been paying attention to some specifics that help and hinder my writing and productivity at times like these. So, in no particular order:
Don’t attempt to multitask. We believe we’re great multitaskers, that we can capably switch between multiple things and get our work done faster, more efficiently, or more completely. Unfortunately, this is complete nonsense. Multitasking is Not A Thing. For many years I fully believed I was the best multitasker ever, but recently I’ve been consciously paying attention to how multitasking goes for me, and the more I try to do it, the more frazzled I get, the more items I miss, and the worse my overall product is.
Make Lists. I do very well when I make COPIOUS lists. I tend to make a paper To Do list at the beginning of each workday, actively use them (adding things, crossing off) and often in the busiest times I’ll remake them at the end of the day as well. This helps me to ensure I don’t forget things, and gives me relief from the nagging sense that I have to do something—if it’s on my list, I’ll get to it. I tend to place items on my list by priority, and I don’t worry about including things that are short term vs. long term—it all goes in the same place so it’s not in the back of my mind bugging me.
Enforce strict work/life boundaries. I don’t have my cell phone number on my email signature, and I don’t give it to my project staff unless absolutely necessary. Some of that is a holdover from my social work training where it’s critical that clients only have professional access to their clinicians/therapists, but some of it is just plain old good elf-care. I answer emails during business hours only as a personal general rule (unless it is a truly urgent situation). It’s incredibly easy for the lines to blur during peak grant activity periods, and I find that nobody else is going to identify that line for me, I have to do it for myself, and I have to rigorously enforce it for myself.
Find your personal self-care go-to’s, and practice them regularly. For me, I tend to read a lot more during my busy seasons (something about reading books is a great antidote to the cognitive work of writing a whole lot), currently I’m reading Brene Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Catherine Price’s How To Break Up With Your Phone, Samantha Irby’s Meaty, Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass, and Ray Dalio’s Principles. I listen to podcasts (Forever 35, You Made It Wierd, My Brother My Brother And Me, A Single Serving Podcast, and Love Letters are in my current heavy rotation). I train at my gym at least 4 times a week, as I’ve written about before, weightlifting is my favorite thing. I try to get out into nature as often as possible—having a dog that needs twice daily walks is wonderful, as is getting out for weekend hikes and camping trips. Do the things that help you relax, re-center, and recharge.
Lean on your supports. My friends are great sounding boards for me during the particularly busy times when I need to vent about work. I also serve as their support and listening ear whenever they need that from me. While it’s tempting, I try to avoid gossipy discussions with my colleagues.
Say no to the things you can’t reasonably accomplish. This applies to work as well as outside commitments during busy times. I only have so much bandwidth, it serves nobody if I fail to recognize where the reasonable limits are on my time and my resources.
These are just a few of the most important things for me during my busy times. For many years, I’d put my head down and slog through these times without paying much attention to how my thinking, behaviors, and actions were serving me or not—stress is great at forcing us to hyper-focus and ignore the big picture. I have found over the last couple of years that drawing back my energy, paying conscious attention to the things that are working as well as the things that are creating more issues has helped me to construct my work time and my personal time in a productive way during the periods of high activity and high demand. Best of luck to you if you’re in the middle of the busy season, too! We can get through it, and remember that it won’t last forever!