Crunch, overtime, force-overtime, deathmarch. Call it what you want, no one likes it, no one wants it, and yet it seems to happen in far too many places, and far too often (will have to read that Deathmarch book soon I think).

So, how do you deal with significant amount of overtime? Well, hopefully, you are doing something fun, like a cool game, animation, film or whatever project that you are excited to go to work for, and that will get you by for a little while (if you are lucky for the remainder of the crunch). Either way here are a few tips that I have come up with, that may help you too.

1. Eat: if all you are thinking about is how hungry you are, you are not thinking about how to solve that complex problem. Eating will also give you a bit of a break, hopefully a chance to talk to a few other tired soliders about their battles, and gives your body extra energy for the next attack (managers you should be getting food for your team, variety is nice, try and get from as many different places as possible, eating pizza everyday is only fun for the first week). Oh, and yes you will gain weight during the crunch 😛

2. Drink: avoid overdoing too much caffeine (use sparingly or save it for the final few days, if you need it). Too often, people ramp up too fast and can’t maintain the pace. Go slow, drink lots of water as well as some other things (I like green tea, but go with whatever you like (I like energy drinks occassionally too, but use in moderation)). Remember, this isn’t a sprint, this is a marathon.

3. Call your loved ones: you won’t be seeing them very much, so try and call them during your lunch break or whenever you get a chance during the day, and make sure you do it, and be consistent. Too often it is easy to get wrapped up in the world of the job, but while it is taking all the time of your current life, don’t let it take your future life too (a project should success should not be measured by number of divorce papers, heart breaks and forgotten kids).

4. Take some breaks: get up, walk around, stretch, do some pushups (or consider doing some pushups) to ward of some of the pizza, grab another cup of coffee or tea or water. All this sitting and you will be getting tired, having a quick break and tiny use of energy will still let your brain think on the backburner while giving your body a chance to adjust and feel more alive. Whenever you get really stuck and have been stuck for a long time, get up and take a break.

5. Sleep: you will not be able to do all the things you like to do during a crunch period. Instead, focus on getting some sleep when you get home. If you are lucky, you will have someone else who can help with things (clean laundry is nice), but only focus on the essentials and be sure to sleep as much as you can (you are taxing your body and will need the recovery time).

6. Take a weekend: sometimes things will pile up (laundry?) that you will need to take care of them. You should try and take one weekend a week if possible, or at least half a day on the weekend to see those people you have been calling, and take some personal time.

7. Try and do some work from home: if possible working from home will help, you won’t be as productive or have as much team building as you would at the office, but you will at least be able to help around the house if necessary and see those people you haven’t for a while.

8. Keep track of your time: it is worth knowing how much time you put in. This is time you are unlikely to get back (hopefully you will get some undertime or lieu days) but it becomes far more important for future project planning. When someone says, of course you can get that done in a month you can say no, actually it took four, 70-hour weeks to accomplish, which is more like seven, 40-hour weeks to finish, which becomes a huge difference.

All in all, crunch is usually something that should be minimized (in my experience, 3-weeks of hard straight crunch is usually about most people’s limit). Extended crunch for months on end becomes a death march, and often it is not just the project that is in danger, but also keeping the team intact.

Best of luck in the crunch,
Michael Hubbard

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