5 strategies for surviving survival mode

photo-284We made it through another week around here. The temperatures are in the single digits and the heater broke (it just got fixed – phew!). The baby is in peak fussy time (5 weeks). Everyone has colds. We had a snow day on Tuesday. My husband was traveling. It has dawned on me that I have another book coming out in 3.5 months. There have been low moments, like the epic 7-year-old meltdown over online multiplication homework last night, or the violent fight between the 3- and 5-year-old over who got to open the Sophie the Giraffe baby gift some friends sent us. Good times.

Of course, I don’t really think I’m in “survival” mode. There’s just a lot going on, and more constraints on my time than there will be in other seasons of life. In addition to getting lots and lots of help, I’ve been using a few strategies to stay (mostly) sane.

I’m prioritizing sleep. To be sure, this is easier said than done with a newborn. My approach is to pump and then go to bed as early as I can. I’d like to stay up and read or watch TV, but if I can get to bed by 10, I can get somewhere between 6.5-7 hours before the 4:30-5 a.m. feeding. The one night I hit the sheets by 9:30 was even better! (I’ve eagerly outsourced the midnight-1 a.m. feeding; this is also key). Unfortunately, I have a hard time going back to bed after I’m done feeding at 5:30 a.m. or so. That just feels like morning. I tend to lie there. So…

I’m exercising when I can. The upside of a treadmill is I can squeeze it in. When I was lying awake at 5:45 this morning I decided to get my running clothes on. I went downstairs and did 20 minutes on the treadmill. It’s not a lot, but it’s 20 minutes better than nothing. I’m running the Broad Street 10-miler on May 3, so I will need to start getting serious about running soon. I did a few 5ks on the treadmill this past week.  

I’m making extremely limited to-do lists. This is all about managing expectations. With four kids, even with two adults around, the sub-zero temps mean I’m not doing much beyond glancing at email until about 9:30. One adult waits with the 7-year-old at the bus stop while another stays inside with the baby. One adult does the preschool run while the other stays inside with the baby. By the time the other kids are out the door, it’s time for the baby to eat again. But then things calm down, and I can write the occasional article (like my review of Ron Lieber’s book in the WSJ yesterday: Google “The Price of Privilege WSJ” to see whole text). I can manage 1-2 phone calls or specific-time events (e.g. a class party) per day. I can blog.

I make to-do lists days ahead of time. This is the corollary to the above. Even if I recognize that I can’t get to something today, putting it on the to-do list for 3 days from now reminds me that it will get done eventually. I plan my weeks ahead of time in general, but now I’m also creating lists for upcoming weeks, not just the next one.

I let it go. A downside of being somewhat housebound is that I see various household (and kid!) projects that would be good to do. But there will be a time to clean out my car, or get the 3-year-old to give up her pacifier, and the weeks when I have a baby stuck on me are not it.

How do you get through crunch times?

Photo: Or you could always just stick your head in the snow…

6 thoughts on “5 strategies for surviving survival mode

  1. I’m prioritizing sleep and exercise too. We’ve had monster colds for over a week that we are just now getting over. Everyone was cranky, and no one has slept through the night. Today has the makings of a turnaround on the sick front, and appreciating the light at the end of the tunnel goes a long way. Realizing that we needed some help this weekend to catch our breath, I scheduled more sitter time than I normally would. Since I slept relatively well last night, I have planned to get home on the early side today, have the nanny load the twins in the van while I change, and hit the gym for 45 minutes while child care is still open. I rarely use the Friday early evening time slot for a workout, but when I look back at this week I’ll be amazed that in the mosaic, to use your term, of some very challenging moments, I managed several workouts. I’ve also used low energy moments when I thought my head about to explode from said cold to make a semblance of order out of my files. When I am exhausted I often find it easier to engage in physical activity rather than produce original work.

  2. One thing I’ve discovered lately is that it helps to have a specific goal or guess for when survival mode will end, and a list (mental or otherwise) of what will get picked back up again at that time. It’s a minor example (compared to four kids/snow/book launch!) but I recently had a nasty flu and a lot of good habits and ‘rules for myself’ I’d been working so hard on went out the window. Which was what I needed to get through it – obviously getting to the gym each morning wasn’t a good idea when I was sick! And I’d made myself a rule not to eat out (unless it was for a specific event like a birthday) because I’m adjusting to a tighter budget – but a short stroll to a local Vietnamese place for some chicken noodle soup made me feel so much better – physically and mentally. So I guessed I’d be sick for about a week and wrote a big reminder in my dayplanner about ‘restarting’ my budget and exercise plan at that time. It worked really well compared to other times when a flu has derailed my exercise routine and then I’ve failed to pick it up again until months and months later.

    1. @Lily- This is a great point. It’s something I’ve been thinking about after reading Gretchen Rubin’s forthcoming book on habits. There’s a section on how it’s often harder to restart a habit than to start it in the first place. So you need some mental trick to convince yourself that you’re not really stopping. So, for instance, you go on vacation but your first session with a trainer is scheduled for when you return at the same time as usual. So you’re not stopping, you’ve just canceled a few sessions. As for the eating out part, maybe the budget accommodates a few treat meals per month, and you elect to use the treats for when you’re sick — seems like a good idea to me!

      A lot of people run marathons and then completely fall off the wagon from exercising. You’re supposed to take some time off afterwards — which makes total sense — but then once you’re off for a while, and don’t have a goal, it’s easy not to start again. This is why some people advise signing up for another race right away, or even before you run the first one. You’re just pausing.

      1. Ooh – I’m looking forward to reading that!
        As Revanche says – re-starting IS tough – I used to run – I even did a couple of half marathons. But I moved to a new city and started a new job and running wasn’t a priority – and hard to do with the weather and environment in my new location. So a year went by and I decided I wanted to get back into it – and it’s so tough. I’m slowly working through a couch to 5k program and using as an opportunity to work on my running form etc. But remembering how tough it is to re-start will be my motivation to never quit again!

  3. Restarting a habit IS harder in my experience as well. In my case, it tends to be self care habits that fall by the wayside and I don’t realize the consequences until it’s turned into deep regret! My husband has been invaluable in getting me back on track when it doesn’t occur to me.
    I’m in the thick of it with the baby attached to me as well, but I can’t stop myself thinking of new projects to start because I’m looking ahead to buy more time with our growing family and feel the need to do something proactive to get to that goal.
    Most pressingly, we really need to find a reliable nanny or sitter and time is running out before I have to return to work. So far, I’m tempted to stick my head in snow for all the success we’re having! 🙂 but it’s one of those short term pain, long term gain things if we can get it taken care of. That’s usually how I manage to get through the worst crunches: focus on the tasks that will have the most impact on alleviating our stress.

    1. @Revanche – Good strategy to focus on the big stuff. I mean, your car doesn’t need to get cleaned, but it will be pretty hard to return to work without someone to look after your kid! It might help to schedule a time for the projects. List them all, then look forward for the next year and budget them in over that time frame. I’m trying to assign myself only one project like “taxes” or “summer plans” per every few weeks…

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