Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach
Lately I seem to be tired late in the afternoon — deadline time — and it takes very little to get me irritated. I’ve been working here only for four months, but I wonder if it’s time to schedule a few days of vacation. Is there a rule of thumb on asking for days off? Or better, are there tricks to help change your mood — especially on those tight-deadline days when you need to stay focused on the job? — Moody in Minneapolis
What you’re describing is not a writing problem or a need for vacation, but an incipient health problem that could lead to burnout.
Questions for you: Are you getting enough sleep? Eating right? Or are you loading up on M&M’s, coffee and alcohol — things that journalists legendarily thrive on but that, in truth, play havoc with the body? Are you getting out of the office enough — literally getting out and walking around for 15 or so minutes before writing? Or maybe walking a few blocks to an interview rather than doing a phone interview?
You mention you’ve been at the newspaper only a few months. This probably is not a good time to ask for “a few days of vacation.” But it is possible you’re trying so hard to make a good impression that you’re doing too much too fast and not leaving yourself breathing room.
If you sit hour after hour chained to your chair, your body tenses up in deadline mode. You restrict the flow of oxygen through your body, and you get stressed. This can make you sleepy and irritable.
Remember: Newspaper reporting is strenuous for mind and body. Be kind to yourself. Get up, get out, get exercising and get breathing. Get enough sleep. Avoid the coffee-sugar-alcohol cycle.
If you don’t feel peppier in 10 days, call your doctor for a physical exam. And yes, schedule time off from work to get there.